GP practices ‘can close’ next Monday (19 September) for the bank holiday announced for the Queen’s state funeral, NHS England has said.
However, it said that planned Covid booster vaccinations in care homes should still go ahead.
For those that choose to remain open there will not be any additional funding provided.
GPs warned over the weekend that a bank holiday at short notice is a ‘nightmare’ for practices.
In a letter sent to GPs today, NHS England set out its ‘expectations for ensuring there is ongoing access available to NHS primary care services’.
It said: ‘GP practices will be contractually able to close on this day for their core services as it is a confirmed bank holiday.
‘ICBs will need to urgently work to ensure sufficient out-of-hours (Integrated Urgent Care) services capacity is in place during what would have been core hours to meet patients’ urgent primary medical care needs.’
But it added that ‘scheduled care home visits (which are a high priority for the [Covid autumn booster] programme)’ should be ‘maintained and delivered as planned’.
It said: ‘We strongly encourage any clinics scheduled on that day to be maintained particularly where there is a high population need. Providers should discuss with their local commissioner any need to flex or condense hours to support providers.’
The letter added that PCNs that had planned to provide Extended Hours on the bank holiday ‘may wish to continue to offer these hours or cancel’ and make up the time ‘by offering additional appointments within a two-week period unless otherwise agreed by the commissioner’.
And it said that while ICBs must ensure access to ICB-commissioned extended access services ‘is available during peak demand’, it is ‘recognised it will be difficult for providers to flex additional “step-up” capacity or necessarily anticipate demand’ due to the ‘short notice bank holiday’.
ICBs will need to work with GP out-of-hours, urgent care and extended access providers to ‘ensure available capacity is optimised’, it added.
Meanwhile, the letter said that practices and PCNs ‘must ensure that all patients are notified of any cancellations and rescheduling of appointments’ and keep patients ‘fully informed of the arrangements’.
It added: ‘GP practices will also wish to consider rescheduling pre-booked appointments and enabling patients to receive prescriptions, especially repeat medicines, in advance of the bank holiday.
‘Likewise, it will be important for practices to signpost to other local primary care services when the practice is closed.’
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced on Saturday that the 19 September ‘will be a national bank holiday’ across the UK to ‘allow individuals, businesses and other organisations to pay their respects to Her Majesty and commemorate Her reign’.
But guidance said that time off or additional pay for those who work on the bank holiday are ‘a matter for discussion between individuals and their employer’.
GPs reacted with dismay to the announcement over the weekend, warning that ‘it’s just not possible to fit the same work into fewer days’.
Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney said on Twitter: ‘Please let there not be a bank holiday for primary care.
‘I do not know where I will put the patients all booked for then in fully booked surgeries elsewhere; most urgent/ emergency work will come to us later in week. It’s just not possible to fit the same work into fewer days.’
She added: ‘I would get rid of all bank holidays in primary care. The work just gets shoved elsewhere or we do it later with more complications. [I] am totally opposed to weekend/evening working though.
‘I mainly spend bank holidays in worry about the next day(s)’.
Oxford GP Dr Helen Salisbury said: ‘A bank holiday at short notice is a nightmare for those of us trying to run health services. Loads of patients booked in do what to do? Implore staff to work and pay extra? Reschedule and delay all the appointments?’
Dr Salisbury said: ‘It’s really very difficult to cancel patients who have been booked in and are waiting for their appointment.
‘We’re assuming that an emergency type service will be organised, currently we mean to carry on booked appointments, if we can get enough staff to do that, because I think most of the doctors are happy to work, but of course it’s really very difficult for people who have children because schools will be closed and it may not be possible to get childcare at short notice. I do feel that possibly not enough [thought] was given of the impact of a fairly short notice holiday when this decision was made.’
Surrey GP Dr Dave Triska said he was filled with ‘instant dread’, adding that ‘post bank holiday is always the apocalypse’.
But Wales GP Dr Laura Nourish added that it was a ‘lose-lose situation’, pointing out that practice staff might ‘expect the day off’ or ‘need paying extra’ for working bank holiday hours.
Meanwhile, Nottingham GP Irfan Malik asked why GPs shouldn’t be able to benefit from the public holiday, adding that they ‘are part of the public also’.
And London GP Dr Kate Adams said the three-day weekend ‘also puts huge pressure on urgent and emergency care services’ adding that there is now ‘little time to plan’ or ‘recruit staff to cover’.