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GPs could be barred from taking leave around Christmas

Exclusive: GPs across Scotland could be blocked from taking leave around the holiday periods at Christmas and New Year, in an attempt to reduce strain on the national NHS 24 out-of-hours service, Pulse can reveal.

The move by the Scottish Government follows disquiet among NHS managers both north and south of the border over the length of time practices were closed over the recent Christmas and New Year period, with some practices taking two successive four-day holidays.

The Scottish Government is to publish a ‘good practice’ report on how NHS boards can reduce out-of-hours demand amid fears that NHS 24 has been overwhelmed by demand.

The GMS contract guarantees Christmas Day and New Year¹s Day as out-of-hours periods when GP practices are closed, but talks with NHS boards held last autumn highlighted their ‘discretion’ in scheduling other GP public holidays, raising the prospect of NHS managers blocking GPs from taking leave around Christmas and New Year. Board minutes from a meeting of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde last October said the four-day holiday periods were ‘a major concern’. It added that ‘discussions were ongoing with GPs to review the practice of closure over the four-day holiday period’.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘NHS boards have been invited to explore the scope for reducing the impact of consecutive four-day holiday periods. Apart from Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, which are defined in GMS regulations as out-of-hours periods, NHS boards already have discretion as to the determination of when public and local holidays for GP practices are taken.’ GP leaders said they had not been part of discussions so far but would resist moves to block GPs from taking leave.

Dr Dean Marshall, chair of the Scottish GPC, said: ‘We are entitled to holidays as much as anyone else.’ Before Christmas, GPs in Manchester and the West Midlands came under pressure from NHS managers to provide the ‘full range of services’ on the Fridays before Christmas and New Year.