Click here for full story GPs under fire over festive closing times: Surgeries where doctors left early could be shut down
  • Hundreds of practices 'shut early on Christmas and New Years’ Eve'
  • This is despite being paid to stay open until 6.30pm by commissioners
  • Warning notices have now been sent to a number of surgeries
  • It comes amid concerns patients ended up in overstretched A&E units
Surgeries could be shut down after closing early without permission during the festive period, GPs have been warned. Hundreds of practices are suspected of shutting early on Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve despite being paid to stay open until 6.30pm. NHS officials have now sent warning notices to a number of surgeries over concerns that patients may have ended up in overstretched A&E units after doctors went home early. NHS England – which runs the health service – rang round 238 surgeries in London on Christmas Eve between 3.30pm and 6.30pm and found 5 per cent were already closed. They did not contact all 8, 000 surgeries in England, but if the percentages are broadly similar then as many as 400 surgeries may have closed early. Officials carried out the same exercise on New Year’s Eve and are now in the process of issuing breach of contract notices to offending practices. These are written warnings telling doctors that their contracts to run practices could be terminated if they break the rules again. Commenting on the medical news website Pulse, which uncovered the story, some GPs argued that it was a ‘waste of time’ keeping surgeries open on Christmas and New Year’s Eve as they are traditionally so quiet. Dr Peter Swinyard, a GP in Swindon, Wiltshire, who is chair of the Family Doctor Association, wrote: ‘What a complete farce. ‘The number of calls that are after 3.30pm on Christmas Eve is always vanishingly small.’ But NHS England officials insisted that doctors still had a duty to care for patients, warning that there was a risk people would be redirected to busy A&E and out-of-hours services. And Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: ‘Patients don’t know when they are going to be ill and if it happens to be during a normally quiet time they should be able to see a doctor. Family doctors should remain open until their normal time.’ A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘From 15.30 on Christmas Eve we called 238 practices in London – 12 practices were found to be closed and were issued with a breach of contract notice before New Year’s Eve. ‘On New Year’s Eve we repeated the process and further breach notices have been or are in the process of being issued. ‘We undertook this exercise because we wanted to ensure that patients in London had access to the primary care services that they are entitled to which their GP practices had signed up to deliver.’ Last month Dr David Geddes, a senior GP who is head of primary care commissioning at NHS England, told family doctors not to close early on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. In a strongly-worded letter he said closing times were ‘non-negotiable’ and pointed out that the period could be the sole chance some patients had to pick up vital medication. He wrote: ‘The afternoon of the 24th and 31st may provide the only opportunity for patients who are otherwise working to attend to collect prescription medication and review prior to the festive season.’