GP practice could face contract termination for closing early twice over Christmas break
Exclusive A GP practice faces having its contract terminated or being hit with alternative sanctions after being issued with two breach notices for closing early on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Managers at NHS England’s London area team revealed that one of the 12 practices known to have been served with a breach notice for closing early on Christmas Eve also closed early on New Year’s Eve, despite having been warned at the time that a further breach would give NHS England ‘grounds for serving notice on you terminating the contract’.
The practice, which has not been identified by managers, is understood to be appealing the breach notices. But GP leaders criticised the approach by the area team, warning that the row was diverting the attention of both managers and GPs from more pressing issues facing general practice.
NHS England’s London area team has been the only one to issue breach of contract notices for early closure on the two days, with practices in other areas anticipating little patient demand allowed to close their doors at 4pm.
A spokesperson for the London area team said: ‘NHS England phoned 237 practices on Christmas Eve, and subsequently issued 12 breach notices. The 12 practices which were issued breach notices for Christmas Eve were then phoned again on New Year’s Eve. One practice was found to be closed early and therefore in breach of their contract… [O]ne practice was found to be in breach of their contract, and this practice was served with an additional breach notice.’
Asked whether this meant a possible contract termination, the spokesperson said: ‘The breach notices issued are currently under review as part of the appeals process. If both breach notices are upheld, the situation will be reviewed and a decision will be made as to what will happen next. As the process is still ongoing we cannot comment any further on the situation at this stage.’
In its first breach of contract notice issued to the 12 practices which closed on Christmas Eve, the local area team warned that any future failure to open during core hours could potentially lead to contract termination.
It said: ‘NHS England requires you not to repeat the breaches identified in this notice. The effect of a breach notice is that if you: repeat the breaches that were the subject of the breach notice; or otherwise breach the contract resulting in either a remedial notice or a further breach notice, NHS England may have grounds for serving notice on you terminating the contract with effect from such date as may be specified in that notice.’
A Londonwide LMCs spokesperson said: ‘Londonwide LMCs will be supporting the practice and be part of any negotiations necessary should the breach notices be upheld. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time as this may disadvantage the practice in what is a live ongoing process at this stage.’
Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC commissioning subcommittee and chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said there were more pressing issues for NHS managers to be concerned about.
He said: ‘I think there are really important issues going on in general practice, so I wouldn’t advice a practice or the area team to get into a battle about opening times. I think that is a fight, personally, that we don’t want to have. I’ve got practices who are literally struggling for survival and that’s what we want to be focusing our attention on - not whether we were open or closed on New Year or Christmas.’
The NHS England London area team spokesperson said: ‘We are currently reviewing these appeals and will be writing to the practices to inform them of our response shortly.’
The row comes as an email leaked to Pulse revealed that NHS England staff were allowed to leave from 2pm on Christmas Eve.