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NHS managers relax rules on Christmas extended hours after admitting demand is down

NHS England has said that practices will not have to offer an extended hours DES on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve because the ‘demand for routine appointments… will be a lot less than at other times of the year’.

Pulse revealed this week that practices will have to open for their full core hours on those two days, after the head of primary care at NHS England, Dr David Geddes, sent a letter to area teams on Monday explaining that they should be treated like other non-public holidays.

GP leaders welcomed NHS England’s commitment to relax the rules around the extended access DES, but said that demand for all appointments – not just extended hours – is down on these days.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Practices are contracted to be open on these days and to offer patients an appropriate level of service. NHS England accepts that the demand for routine appointments and services offered under a DES will be a lot less than at other times of the year. Practices are best placed to ensure that the service they offer in the run-up to Christmas is accessible to all, and meets the needs of their registered population.

‘The Christmas period is busy for many people and clinical demand is often directed towards the last-minute need for prescriptions or management of acute illness. GPs, however, will be sensitive to the needs of their patients and care will be individualised to those that need it.’

Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said a ‘bit of common sense’ was needed over opening hours on days when there is little demand.

He added: ‘We are here for our patients. We all wish to provide the excellence of service that our patients seek and deserve within the resources available to us. In general practice we are the most responsive service to our patients’ needs. At busy times, we put on extra surgeries and provide more appointments. However, when we know from years of experience that demand is non-existent, it would be a waste of resources fully to staff a practice when there are no patients to care for. Patients can be told in advance of opening times and work with them.

‘In the last three years, when we have shut in the early afternoon and I have carried a mobile phone, I have not had a single consultation and only once a request for a prescription, which could be satisfied with a call to the patient’s usual pharmacy.’

Dr Geddes’ own practice – the Clifton Medical Centre in York – said it would cancel the enhanced service late evening surgery on both days, although it would stay open in core hours.