Exclusive NHS England staff were allowed to leave at 2pm on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve even though GPs who closed their doors early have been served with breach of contract notices, a leaked email that has infuriated GPC negotiators reveals.
Pulse has learnt that the internal email – addressed to all ‘NHS England Staff’- wished them a ‘well-deserved break’ and said they could leave at 2pm as long as NHS England remained able to respond to issues including urgent calls or emails, during normal working hours.
The leaked email comes as BMA lawyers begin working to defend 12 GP practices in London that were served with breach notices by the area team for closing early on Christmas Eve.
The practices were served with notices after head of primary care at NHS England Dr David Geddes wrote to all area teams last year to insist that it was ‘non-negotiable’ that GP practices open for their full core hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The letter from ‘NHS England Communications’ says that their staff will be given the afternoon off on these says, as long as cover arrangements are in place and there ‘will be no negative impact upon delivering our normal operations’.
It says: ‘On both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it has been agreed that staff can be released early to make their way home from 2.00pm onwards, where appropriate to the work of the team concerned. Approved early release of staff, in these circumstances, will not require the use of flexi-time, time off in lieu or annual leave entitlement.’
GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said the letter showed ‘sheer hypocrisy’ from NHS England, which had refused the common practice of allowing GPs to hand over to out-of-hours cover within core hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
He said: ‘GPs as a whole will be very angry at the double standards and sheer hypocrisy of senoir managers especially when the boot is on the other foot and we have to stay late to finish the days work – unlike managers. Next year managers will have this waved in their faces and we will be checking up on them unless they change their attitude.’
To date, only the London branch of NHS England has punished practices for handing over to out-of-hours cover on the two days, while two other area teams had honoured agreements to allow practices to do so.
This included in Manchester, as previously reported, and also in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, where the LMC said in its latest newsletter to practices: ‘The Christmas and New Year option to delegate to out of hours cover was a line in the sand – common sense over-riding intransigence.’
A spokesperson for Londonwide LMCs said: ‘LMC are continuing to support practices served with breach notices but due to the fact negotiations are ongoing there is nothing we would comment on more publicly at present as this may jeopardise any proceeding that may take place further down the line.’
A spokesperson from NHS England said: ‘Administration staff at NHS England are not frontline staff providing health services to patients and therefore it is not appropriate to compare their working arrangements with those of GP practices. In addition over the Christmas and New Year holidays NHS England ensured cover arrangements were in place delivering normal operations (i.e. the equivalent of core services) which is all that was required of practices.
‘Teams where adequate staffing was in place were able to exercise discretion to staff to leave early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in line with the above principle.’
From: England Communications (NHS ENGLAND)
Sent: 24 December 2013 11:13
To: all staff
Subject: Message to all NHS England Staff – Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve cover arrangements
The Christmas and New Year period is an extremely busy one for the NHS and NHS England remains open for business during this time of year to provide support to the rest of the health service.
Whilst many of you will be taking a well deserved break for some or all of the festive period, it is important that NHS England is able to respond to issues including urgent calls or emails, during normal working hours. Please can everyone therefore ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place across all Area, Regional and the National Support Centre teams to manage such requirements.
Where cover arrangements are in place and there will be no negative impact upon delivering our normal operations, on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it has been agreed that staff can be released early to make their way home from 2.00pm onwards, where appropriate to the work of the team concerned. Approved early release of staff, in these circumstances, will not require the use of flexi-time, time off in lieu or annual leave entitlement.
Line managers are therefore asked to apply appropriate discretion and to ensure sufficient cover arrangements for the remainder of these two working days.
Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.
NHS England Internal Communications Team