GPs Receive Breach Notice Warning Over Christmas Opening Hours

Doctors' Surgeries Are Being Warned Over Their Christmas Opening Hours

18.11.2014

GP surgeries throughout the UK are being warned that they could be faced with a breach notice if they do not organise adequate out-of-hours cover for their patients over the upcoming Christmas and New Year period.

Pulse Magazine reports that last Christmas, 12 surgeries in London were handed such notices after closing early on December 24th and 31st, despite national guidance from NHS England urging them not to.

Therefore, the health service is warning doctors that similar rules will also apply this year unless they set up an official contract with an out-of-hours provider to ensure patients still have access to quality care over the festive season, without their health or lives being put at risk.

Practices are being told to open from 08:00 to 18:30 on both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, or to put these measures in place.

In addition, GPs will need to make sure the contract is approved by their local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), as well as ensuring the cover provider has full access to all patient records.

The letter explained: "This must be with prior written agreement with both the provider and the CCG commissioner of that service.

"NHS England does not feel that practices can reasonably claim patients receive a service that meets their reasonable needs from a sub-contracted provider."

The healthcare body issued a letter to doctors throughout the country earlier this month, explaining that if they choose to shut outside of normal working hours over the Christmas period, they have to provide patients with clear information about where they can access alternative services.

For instance, people should be able to ring the surgery and speak to an expert, or there should be an answerphone message in place directing them towards an on-call doctor or another nearby facility to visit.

However, the British Medical Association has disagreed with NHS England's warnings, highlighting that these are "not consistent with the contractual regulations" - something it has alerted the health body about.

Expert Opinion
Patient care should always be a top priority, which means ensuring patients have access to care when it is required over the Christmas period. It is vital GP surgeries make arrangements for care over the holiday period and inform patients where and when they can access the treatment they require.

“All too often we see the impact a lack of available care can have on patients, as conditions can worsen and cause significant suffering for individuals if they cannot access the treatment they need.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner