GPC challenges contract threat to practices closing early over Christmas

GP leaders have challenged guidance from NHS England that suggests practices could be in breach of their contracts if they close early on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve.

Opening hours: Christmas dispute (Photo: JH Lancy)
Opening hours: Christmas dispute (Photo: JH Lancy)

The BMA has warned NHS England that this is ‘not consistent with contractual regulations’.

Letters sent out by NHS England’s area teams ask practices to submit information about their Christmas opening plans.

Both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Wednesdays in 2014.

According to BMA advice, if practices believe demand for services will be low on these days and they can provide a service ‘reasonable to meet the needs of patients’, closing early would not breach GP contracts.

Practices can subcontract services

The BMA says practices are within their rights to subcontract services when their doors are closed in core hours to an appropriate provider, such as an out-of-hours organisation.

But a letter from NHS England says: ‘NHS England does not feel that practices can reasonably claim patients receive a service that meets their reasonable needs from a subcontracted provider, unless that alternative provider has access to the patient’s record.’

The letter adds: ‘GP out-of-hours providers have previously expressed concern about early closing of general practices on these days and the potential impact on them. Given the pressures that out-of-hours providers already face during this period, it is not a reasonable or sustainable service option.

‘These standards apply to any practice not opening at 08:00 and/or closing its doors before 18:30, Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays.

Breach of contract threat

‘If these arrangements are not in place or, if tested they fail, this may amount to a breach of your contract and will be dealt with accordingly.’

LMCs believe local arrangements will overcome problems with the stance set out in national guidance.

A statement from Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley says the national advice ‘contains inaccuracies’, adding that locally ‘the area team has confirmed that it will continue to operate the same sensible and reasonable stance on this issue that it took following consultation with the LMC last year’.

Dr Morley added: ‘Practices that wish to close early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve will be able to do so without fear of contractual action, assuming they act in accordance with the guidance and within the regulations and make appropriate arrangements, whether through subcontracting to an out-of-hours provider or through other means, to ensure that the reasonable needs of patients are met on the two afternoons in question.’

Click here to read BMA advice for Chrismas and New Year opening

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