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GPs hit with breach of contract notices after NHS England checks up on practices closing early over Christmas

NHS England has issued breach of contract notices to 12 GP practices in London for closing early on Christmas Eve and is preparing more notices for those who were closed on New Year’s Eve, Pulse has learnt.

NHS England’s local area team in London said that staff rang round 238 GP practices in the capital after 3.30pm on Christmas Eve to check they remained open. As a result of the calls, NHS England found that 12 practices had transferred calls to an alternative provider and has subsequently issued them with a breach of contract notice.

It repeated the same exercise on New Year’s Eve and told Pulse that further breach notices ‘have been or are in the process of being issued’.

Londonwide LMCs said it had initially reached an agreement with local managers to allow GPs to close early on Christmas Eve but that this offer was withdrawn by NHS England in London after national primary care chief Dr David Geddes sent a strongly-worded letter informing practices across the country that remaining open during core hours would be ‘non-negotiable’.

A spokesperson for NHS England (London) told Pulse today: ‘From 15.30 on Christmas Eve we called 238 practices in London. 12 practices were found to be closed and were issued with a breach of contract notice before New Year’s Eve.

‘On New Year’s Eve we repeated the process and further breach notices have been or are in the process of being issued.

‘We undertook this exercise as we wanted to ensure that patients in London had access to the primary care services they are entitled to and that GP practices had signed up to deliver.’

At the time of writing, NHS England was unable to confirm whether this exercise had been repeated in other areas of the country.

But in a statement, Londonwide LMCs said they were clear that the practices had not breached their contract by transferring calls to another provider and it would be supporting practices if they wanted to challenge the notices issued to them from NHS England.

The statement said: ‘The GMS contract is non-specific on hours of opening on Christmas Eve and requires only “reasonable access to services”. It is the firm opinion of Londonwide LMCs, the GPC and BMA Law that the GMS contract does not require that practices are physically open during all of core hours. This was made clear in guidance issued by the GPC and Londonwide LMCs.

‘Last year one of the PCT clusters objected to this but LMC negotiated a reasonable response. A similar compromise was negotiated with NHS England (London) early in December but following a letter from Dr David Geddes this agreement was withdrawn and practices were told they were expected to remain open until 6.30pm Christmas Eve.’

‘Londonwide LMCs are contacting affected practices and offering support and guidance if they wish to dispute the breach notices issued by NHS England (London) and we are liaising with the GPC to ensure their resources are adequately mobilised. Because this is a national issue, Londonwide LMCs will be working with other LMC leads across England.’

‘It is Londonwide LMCs’ view that NHS England (London) have wasted valuable resources in contacting so many practices and [we] view their action as mean-spirited and vindictive with no benefit to patient services.’

Before Christmas Pulse revealed many GPs were planning to defy NHS England’s guidance on early closure over the holiday, supported by guidance from the GPC and LMCs.

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Readers' comments (44)

  • Peter Swinyard

    What a complete farce. Number of calls after 3.30pm on Xmas eve is always vanishingly small (I took NO calls in this period this season as I was on call for my own practice). Did anyone else try to ring Dr David Geddes at 4pm on Christmas Eve at NHS England HQ where it was one of his regular working days?

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  • What hypocrisy! Before criticising practices for alleged minor infringements of their contracts, NHS England might like to reflect on the fact that it doesn't seem to be able to arrange for practices to be paid on time (in defiance of the government's promise to pay small businesses within 28 days). Some of this money is, I understand, 6 months overdue and practices have been threatened with bailiffs as a result of the cashflow problems this has created.
    My suggestion to NHS England is simple - put your own house in order before you dare to criticise anyone else.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Editor ,
    Are you able to obtain a copy of these letters (breach of contract notice)? Anonymise the practice name and post it on this platform !

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  • , GPC promised robust support for anyone fulfilling the contract and subject to action.
    Good luck Chand, , its make or break for both parties facing off and I hope you make it.

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  • Has NHS England nothing better to do than ring around 237 practices; this is fiddling while Rome burns. We were open until 6.30pm with four doctors on duty and we received only one call after 3.00pm, plus two drop ins to pick up previously ordered prescriptions; thereby saving the NHS from multiple A&E attendances – not!

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  • Well they did say they were going to do it! We were open as usual to 6.30 - dead as a dodo - New Year's Eve much the same!

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  • If the BMA fail to fully back and win this then there is no point in remaining as members.

    If though as I expect the BMA case to be upheld then Dr Geddes position is in my view fatally undermined.

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  • I assume NHSE will have to prove inadequate cover was provided as per our contract. Unless these practices were silly enough not to arrange an alternative cover, this is impossible to prove (unless they can identify patients who actually came to harm).

    So I wouldn't worry about it though personally I think they should have just kept the practice open with minimum staff in order to save themselves the unnecessary trouble.

    P.s. I did actually referred a patient to 2ww clinic and admitted another on Xmas eve, injected a knee and did a few private medicals on new years eve so it wasn't a complete waste for me!

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  • NHS England closed at 5pm instead of their published closing time of 6pm (Mon-Fri excluding Bank holidays) on both Christmas and New Year's Eve

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  • Sorry, but I have no sympathy for those practices who did not stay open. 1) they were warned 2) they quite happily put the work onto someone else, possibly casualty 3) they fed the media that is anti GP and damaged all our reputations.

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  • However, while having no sympathy for practices that did not stay open, can we please have a statement from NHS England that all it's senior staff were at there desks at 4.55 on Christmas Eve unless taking leave. Suggest Pulse do a ring around survey or email all the top staff to find out if they were at their desks, or on official leave.

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  • Dr Mustapha Tahir

    This is absolutely pathetic! NHS England, this action will back fire on you. The public will consider your actions as a total waste of time and resources. Get real!!

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  • What a waste of time and resources. Practices will know their local needs and respond accordingly. Typical London centred approach having no logical or rational appreciation of requirements for local service. Perhaps it would be more rational to get rid of the NHS exec and allow services to be provided by local services.

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  • I'm afraid that as a non-GP (ie as a patient and tax payer), the assumption of some GPs that it's OK to shut up shop when they feel like it is unacceptable. So many of these comments come over as the arrogant outpourings of people who have forgotten why they came into medicine in the first place. Many GPs did work as very reasonably requested by NHS England. They are to be praised for understanding their professional obligations.

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  • I contacted NHS England staff two days before Christmas and were told they were closed until 7th January!

    Don't do as they do, do as they say!

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  • A complete farce- I agree
    But the question remains..... why is the BMA GPC advising Practices they can safely close if this is in fact not the case? We have to have confidence that our union is giving the correct information-If not and these breaches are upheld- then I agree that membership of the BMA seems pointless

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  • Anon@5.06pm - why 4.55? NHS England supposed to be open until 6pm according to website. Wonder what their contract states.

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  • It does not matter, in some respects, what NHS England or X or Y do. That is for them. We are contracted to provide a level of care. Did we do this on Christmas and New Year's eve? If we did, then that is the end of the matter. We must do our duty so that no patient comes to harm. I do not think that we have a case to answer provided we did that.

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  • Non-GP (why are you posting on this site?) anon @6.23pm - the point is that patients do not make routine appointments at these times having other things to do themselves. I might have been sitting at my desk but with no patients so the result was a couple of hours lost that I and my reception staff could have spent with family. I already work 10-11 hour days routinely and I don't think that any inference could be made regarding the understanding of "professional obligations" from finishing a couple of hours early on one or two days in a year. Some perspective, please.

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  • I wonder if those GPs who did close early went out to do some last minute shopping. If so, I bet they would have been very annoyed if their favourite shop/pharmacist/barber/public transport had decided to close at 15:30.

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