To ease pressure on A&E and out-of-hours services during the Christmas period, NHS England has said it expects practices to remain open throughout core hours of 8am to 6.30pm.
But GP leaders believe NHS England’s stance is ‘wrong under the contract regulations and unjustifiable’.
Londonwide LMCs has issued guidance to practices pledging to support any practice that decides not to provide a full service on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The guidance said: ‘Londonwide LMCs strongly believe that NHS England’s position is wrong under the contract regulations and is unjustifiable.
‘While practices wishing to avoid putting themselves at risk of potential contractual action may decide to comply with NHS England’s requirements, other practices may decide not to provide a full service on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for example because they want to avoid wasting staff and practice/NHS resources.
‘In the latter case, practices must ensure they follow the requirements of the contract regulations and the GPC advice. If these practices are subsequently issued with a breach notice by NHS England, they will be fully supported by Londonwide LMCs and the GPC.’
Under the GP contract practices have some flexibility to vary opening – the contract requires them to ensure ‘provision of essential services at such times, within core hours, as are appropriate to meet the reasonable needs’ of patients.
However, over the Christmas period, NHS England has made clear it believes closing early would not be ‘reasonable’.
A letter to practices from NHS England head of primary care commissioning Dr David Geddes cites a series of reasons for demanding that practices stay open.
It says early closure would deny patients access to surgeries on the few days they should be open over Christmas, that out-of-hours providers will be busy already and unwilling to support practices closing early, and that overall NHS England wants to avoid pressure on A&E and other services by making clear to patients that all practices will be open.