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NHS managers set to make u-turn on Christmas opening hours

NHS England looks set to make a u-turn on its stance that practices must open from 8:00am to 6:30pm on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, LMCs have reported.

As Pulse exclusively revealed, LMCs had received threatening letters from NHS England local area teams, warning that practices would be in breach of contract if they outsourced work to out-of-hours providers on those days, despite being traditionally quiet times.

However, NHS England yesterday issued draft guidance suggesting that practices will be able to ‘engage a deputised provider’.

This follows guidance issued by the GPC designed to ‘correct inaccurate information’ released by NHS England, which clarified that practices must simply ensure they have made adequate provisions on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

In October NHS England briefed its local area teams that Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve must be treated as regular working days and subsequently several teams wrote to practices warning that attempts to outsource work to out-of-hours providers would result in breach of contract notices.

GPs were quick to highlight that historically demand for GP services was particularly low around this period and a number of LMCs sought legal advice which confirmed early closing was permitted by contract regulations.

Speaking to Pulse yesterday, Londonwide LMCs medical secretary Dr Tony Grewal said he had received correspondence signalling a change in NHS England’s approach.

He said: ‘I have today had a letter from NHS England via Londonwide LMCs. It’s a draft letter to practices, notifying them of proposals to – I quote – “engage a deputised provider”.’

‘[It says] “if you choose to subcontract these obligations, we need to ensure the delegated provider is able to deliver essential services”. And it’s asking for details of plans for the practice and who will be covering if they’re not doing it themselves.’

This ‘signals a change in position’, he said: ‘They accept GPs may engage an alternative provider and they’re asking for reassurance from GPs that it will be adequate and the quality will be acceptable.’

This follows the GPC’s move to issue guidance clarifying practices’ duties over the Christmas period.

It stated that practices would not have to work full opening hours over the two days, but said practices should advise NHS England local area teams of historically low levels of demand at this time, be able to confirm adequate provisions are in place and formally apply in writing to area teams if they wish to subcontract.

A BMA spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The BMA guidance is designed to correct inaccurate information published by NHS England which suggested practices would be breaching their contractual obligations by altering their opening times during the Christmas period.’

‘However, the BMA does believe that GPs should maintain reasonable services for patients throughout the Christmas and New Year period.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey  said: ‘It is important that NHS England do not get caught up in the media-induced panic relating to winter pressures, but act appropriately and reasonably.’

‘It will surprise some, but practices have experience of the fact that Christmas comes once a year, and they put in place tried and tested arrangements to meet the needs of their patients throughout the holiday period.’

Readers' comments (15)

  • ‘It will surprise some, but practices have experience of the fact that Christmas comes once a year’

    Hilarious.

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  • Peter Swinyard

    It may have been the thought that all GPs would ring the LAT office and NHS England HQ at 4.59pm on Christmas Eve to ensure that they were providing their normal service to practices that changed minds?
    Or perhaps they read the regulations? I am entitled to engage a suitably qualified locum tenens - and as long as patients have easy access, it is still acceptable to share rotas between practices or on a larger scale through deputising services.
    The thought of GPs all over the country sitting with their staff in unused surgeries on Christmas Eve afternoon is daft.
    We shut the doors at 3.30pm in my practice on Christmas Eve and the duty GP holds the mobile phone - almost never called. Slightly more demand on New Year's Eve

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  • I find it continually astonishing that the people who are meant to be overseeing our contracts don't understand our contracts.

    Or perhaps they choose not to....

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  • Ridiculous, what if I need my citalopram for the xmas dinner anxiety with the family at 629pm - I pay my taxes, im writing to my paper (Daily Mail) - they are the true guardians of us patients!!!!!! Shame shame shame on you GP's......

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  • If you get anxious at the family Christmas dinner, then perhaps you shouldn't go! Give the GP's a break, they work harder than you think. It is Christmas after all!

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  • NHS England has magnanimously offered to allow us to move our extended access hours to another day over the 4 week period 16th December to 10th January – reminding us that we are contractually obliged to provide the same hours, even if we usually hold our extended access clinics on Wednesday (Christmas and New Year’s Day) or Thursday (boxing Day).

    Truly is the season of goodwill!

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  • I objected without success to the requirement to "pay back" bank holiday sessions. With this and the sickness and holiday cover demanded, we felt we were unable to provide extended hours and so lost the money that had been redirected from something we were doing. (I can't remember what at this stage).

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  • Azeem Majeed

    This guidance applies to practices with GMS contracts. PMS contracts generally specify practice opening (8am to 6-30pm Monday to Friday where I practise in London) and cannot be changed unless NHS England grant a variation to contract – which is unlikely to happen (certainly not where I practise).

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  • Out-pateinst clinics close early on Christmas eve, if indeed they open at all.
    All health care services close early, why is we expect GP's to be there 24/7, they have families too, or do the NHS think they own GP's and they are nto entitled to a 'normal life'!
    I wonder if I contacted NHS England and hour before they supposed to finish work, how many of them will still be in the office?
    Very few in any, I can assure you!
    A case of don't do as I do, do as I say!

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  • Perhaps guidance may be found at Matthew 12:11 - 12:12 of the King James Bible?

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