GP practices will be asked to open up on Easter Saturday morning for routine appointments as part of ‘resilience’ plans for the NHS over the Bank Holiday weekend.
NHS England wrote to all CCGs to ‘reinforce the importance’ of producing ‘robust demand and capacity plans’ over the Easter weekend, with ‘emphasis specifically on… routine GP surgery capacity on the Saturday morning on the Bank Holiday weekend’.
The letter – which was also signed by Monitor, the Trust Development Authority and directors of adult social services – said there needed to be ‘continuing operational resilience’ even after the winter period because A&E standards were not being met.
It comes after NHS managers asked GPs to work on New Year’s Day in some areas because of fears over winter pressures.
GP leaders said that the system has previously been able to cope with normal services, and that this Easter should be no different ‘even though it falls a few weeks before an election’.
The letter was sent to all CCG accountable officers and chief executives of hospital trusts, and set out a range of plans that health authorities should be in place.
It said: ‘We are writing to you as we reach the end of winter and look ahead to continuing operational resilience through the next holiday period and into 2015/16. Over recent months we have seen a decline in our delivery against the four hour A&E standard… We expect every effort to be made to return to this standard in April.’
It added: ‘For this public holiday in particular… (we) would like to reinforce the importance of all organisations producing robust demand and capacity plans for the Easter period.’
The letter listed particular areas that should be emphasised, including: ‘Routine GP surgery capacity on the Saturday morning on the Bank Holiday weekend; sufficient capacity provided in GP OOH services; NHS 111 staffing capacity increases to cope with potential surges in demand; sufficient capacity across primary care (including pharmacy and dentistry).’
This winter, a number of measures were put in place because the NHS was having trouble coping, with emergency departments particularly affected.
In Essex, Pulse reported that GPs were asked to open on New Year’s Day to help clear the backlog of patients as hospitals fared badly under during the Christmas and New Year period.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said that GPs are successful at managing demand.
He said: ‘Practices and out-of-hours organisations successfully manage demand both leading up to, during and after holiday periods on a regular basis and this should be no different for Easter, even though it falls a few weeks before an election.
‘Some CCGs have provided resources for some practices to provide additional appointments over the holiday period but at a time of acute pressure on the GP workforce they need to be careful that encouraging practices to do more does not undermine the capacity of their local OOH organisation as GPs who would normally do sessions for them work for practices instead.’