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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initially reached an agreement with local managers to allow GPs to close early on Christmas Eve but that this offer was withdrawn by NHS England in London after national primary care chief Dr David Geddes sent a strongly-worded letter informing practices across the country that remaining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)

  • I close my practice every Thursday afternoon. I have done for the past 23 years. And so do most of the practices in my city. We sometimes use this time for educational meetings, mandatory training, staff meetings. We employ the deputising service to cover. I do not remember a single patient complaint, as they are largely aware that this is the service we provide. Presumably I have been in breach of contract for nearly a quarter of a century.

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  • Why did NHSE target only London practices?
    There is a national contract and the same rules should apply across the country.
    It often feels like GPs in London are being specifically singled out.

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  • I see the usual ignorant comments are back, from people who don't understand our contracts.

    If there is no demand, there is no reason to stay open. Anyone who doesn't understand this should not be posting here. Maybe the 'taxpayer' should spend some time reading the GMS contract before posing as a health professional.

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  • Russell Thorpe

    I covered reception myself (non of my staff were willing to work) on both Xmas Eve and NY Eve I had a phone call at 2.20pm. Xmas Eve said wrong number NYE just hung up. Im in Lancashire.

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  • from my understanding the funding to open hours was removed as it was a Qof indicator.
    So given that the opening hours money was removed I fail to see how even breach notices could be served . Some lawyers are going to get very rich on nhs money, especially as most contract have reasonable wording in it , so I wonder what the test of reasonability is going to be.
    From my experience the few pt that attended only came to give boxes of chocolates and to say thank you.

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  • A contract is an agreement between two parties . A contract cannot be altered unilaterally . The government has changed our terms of service without agreement on three occasions . If they can alter this document unilaterally it cannot constitute a contract therefore there is no contract to breach .

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  • I suspect "anonymous" patient and taxpayer [ as indeed we all are] is an employee of NHS England - may even be Jeremy Hunt for all I know. Time these anonymous cowards owned up! We are constantly expected to soak up more and more work. The population and their demands are ever increasing. Does NHS England or their political masters ever provide appreciation or encouragement? NO - just the usual petty vindictiveness. Time they all went on a CPD course on how to manage their workforce.

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  • David - What "more work" was being "soaked up"? By having one GP and one receptionist on site, this fulfilled the contract. All the other staff can go early. Same on New Years Eve so 4 people worked their proper hours and a dozen or so (20+ in a large surgery) had time off. 100 Hour pharmacists were also meant to stay open until 11pm (or whenever their contract hours were). Wonder how many of them managed to close their doors early.

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  • It is a farce and an absolute shame the stance NHS England has taken. Being paranoid i believe that this is a contrived tactic by NHS England to paint as bad a picture it can about Primary Care so they can introduce a more radical plan on access... wait for it...

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  • David - What "more work" was being "soaked up"

    I suspect he was referred to the ongoing massive shift of unfunded work from secondary into primary care.

    By the way it doesn't matter how many GPs and receptionists were present since no patients wanted to be seen anyway.

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