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GP practices to be punished for in-hours closures

GP practices taking part in the extended hours DES will face tighter restrictions on closing during the week for training and admin, under changes to the GP contract announced today.

Under the move, practices that regularly close for a half day – on a weekly basis – will no longer qualify to deliver the DES.

The GPC said NHS England had insisted on the clampdown after a National Audit Office report revealed instances where practices that continued to close for half day every week were still being paid to offer extended hours.

On the back of that report, some national media reports claimed that the ‘thousands of practices’ closing during the week were to blame for the crisis unfolding in A&E departments.

But negotiators stressed this affects a ‘small minority of practices’ and that they have agreed some could still be exempted, for example branch surgeries and small rural practices.

The change will also only come into place from October, to ‘allow any affected practices time to make appropriate arrangements’.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the changes ‘must not be seen as a lever to make hard-pressed GPs compromise their own welfare and patient safety by forcing them to be open at times which might be impractical and unrealistic for their particular local circumstances’. 

She added: ‘Smaller practices might need to close temporarily to allow GPs to make home visits, for example, or for their teams to undertake mandatory training. We need to see very clear guidance about when closing practices temporarily during core hours is acceptable – as sometimes there will be no alternative.’

Dr Peter Holden, deputy chair of the GPC’s premises and practice finance policy team, said the move was a case of NHS chiefs ‘looking like they are being tough’.

Dr Holden said: ‘You can still close for training, and in our neck of the woods it’s the CCG that drives that bloody train.’

GPs have more positive news in terms of other changes to enhanced services.

Along with the scrapping of the unpopular unplanned admissions DES, they are set for a boost in funding for the learning disabilities DES – with an increase in the sum paid for each health check from £116 to £140.