In a letter sent to GPs and commissioners, NHS leaders said Easter bank holidays (10 and 13 April) should be treated ‘as normal working days’ to maintain services during the coronavirus outbreak.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that surgeries working extra hours over Easter and possibly through bank holidays in May, should receive additional funding from the government.
The Leeds GP highlighted that practices in Scotland had already been promised an extra £15m to help them to best serve the needs of their patient populations during the pandemic. Around a third of this money is intended to be used to cover bank holiday service, according to the Scottish government.
He urged ministers to offer practices in England a similar financial package that would allow them ‘a similar degree of autonomy’ when working with their patients.
Meanwhile, he said that measures to allow new patients to register remotely with GP practices was a ‘necessary, practical’ step to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the health of patents and staff.
Speaking to GPonline, Dr Vautrey said that practices were ‘continuing to go above and beyond’ to deal with the national emergency. He said: ‘These are not ordinary times. GPs and practice staff have been doing an incredible job at adapting how they work to face of unprecedented demand and part of this may also mean some practices having to work throughout bank holidays.
‘Given the significant effort that will be required of GPs and practice staff, particularly in relation to additional opening hours, it is crucial that practices are compensated appropriately to address this.
‘Scotland has already agreed funding to go to practices for them to decide how best to deal with COVID-19 related matters to best serve the needs of their patient population, and a similar degree of autonomy and trust must be afforded to practices in England.’
Bank holiday costs
Of the £15m package for Scottish practices, around a third is intended to allow practices to remain open on Good Friday and Easter Monday - helping to alleviate pressures on out-of-hours services. The remainder will help to cover the cost of equipment, additional non-clinical staff, GP partners and locum cover for sickness leave.
There has been no announcement regarding a funding package to support surgeries who are asked to work through the Easter bank holidays in England. But NHS leaders have insisted financial constraints ‘must not and will not stand in the way’ of the country’s coronavirus response, with the chancellor promising that the NHS will get ‘whatever extra resources’ it needs.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens announced last month that GP practices would receive QOF and enhanced services pay from the start of April in line with performance before the COVID-19 outbreak. NHS officials later pledged that practices whose QOF income for 2019/20 drops compared with the previous year 'as a result of COVI9-19 activities' will have their income adjusted.