GP practices urged to stay open over Christmas to ‘cope with added demand’

GP practices have been asked to retain normal opening hours throughout the Christmas holidays while commissioners decide whether out-of-hours services are unable to cope with the added demand.

Official guidance, issued by NHS England, says GP practices can “only” close early on non-Bank Holidays if they have a “prior written agreement with both the provider and the CCG commissioner of that service”.

Guidelines add that closing early “may not be a reasonable or sustainable option” if commissioners feel that out-of-hours services are under too much pressure.

Last year, several GP practices were issued with breach notices for closing early during the holiday period.

“GP out-of-hours providers have previously expressed concern about early closing of general practices at Christmas and New Year and the potential impact on them,” said NHS England.

“Given the pressures that out-of-hours providers already face during this period, this may not be a reasonable or sustainable service option.”

It added that it will be up to NHS England regional teams or CCG’s commissioning general practices to decide whether practices can close early or have to remain open.

GPC contracts and regulations lead, Dr Robert Morley, said a practice closing early over the holidays “would be perfectly legitimate under the regulations if it is going to be clear that demand for appointments will be low and practices are still meeting the reasonable needs of their patients”.

He added: “It is highly unlikely that such early closing will then lead to any increased demand during the out-of-hours periods.

“Practices might choose to deal with this by having a practice duty doctor on call or reciprocal arrangements with another named GP.”

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