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LMC funds legal action against NHS England over Christmas opening breach notices

Exclusive Londonwide LMCs is taking the exceptional move to fund legal action on behalf of practices who were slapped with ‘victimising’ breach notices for closing on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Medical director Dr Tony Grewal told Pulse that Londonwide LMCs have recently instructed a firm of solicitors to revive the legal battle on behalf of 11 London GP practices that were served with breach notices in January 2014 for closing early over Christmas – and that it will, jointly with the BMA, foot the practices’ legal fees.

Dr Grewal said the LMCs had taken the unusual move because this was an ‘exceptional case’ which was ‘important enough to make an exception’.

News that the 11 practices were taking action against NHS England first emerged last year. However, Dr Grewal told Pulse that this was later ‘not followed up’ at the time because of issues over funding.

He said: ‘GPDF instructed a firm of solicitors at the time but it wasn’t followed up by the BMA so we decided to start funding it. The fee is being split between the LMC and the GPDF.’

He added: ‘This is an exceptional case, we do not usually pay solicitors’ fees but this was important enough to us to make an exception.’

Even though NHS England had said keeping open during core hours over Christmas was ‘non-negoatiable’, a number of practices chose to defy the decree and follow advice issued by the GPC instead.

However, only the London area team decided to actually issue sanctions on practices that had taken the move, while other areas were more relaxed. Some area teams also pre-agreed with practices that they could close early.

Dr Grewal said: ‘These practices followed BMA advice and were issued breach notices. Other practices which also followed advice were not issued with notices. This is victimisation – they weren’t doing anything evil, they were just being sensible and closing on Christmas Eve when no patients were going to come in anyway.’

Twelve practices in London were served with breach notices for closing early on Christmas Eve 2013, 11 of which decided to appeal the decision.

One practice even received two notices, for having closed both on Christmas and New Years Eve, which caused particular concern because contractual terms state that any breach for which a practice has received a notice cannot be repeated or the practice could potentially have its contract revoked.

The Christmas opening row, which commenced in 2013, preambled the Government’s drive to ensure GP services are available 8-8, seven days per week.