More than 700 practices in England have regular half-day closures during the week, it was claimed yesterday.
The number was obtained by the Daily Mail through a Freedom of Information request. The newspaper claims that many of the half-days are taken for “lengthy lunch breaks” or afternoons off. But GP leaders said practices might need to close for training or other business purposes.
Meanwhile NHS England said practices would face financial losses if they failed to stay open on weekdays without permission from clinical commissioning groups. These “fines” could cost up to £40,000 a year and are part of the latest GP contract.
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England acting director of primary care, said: “Family doctors are the bedrock of our health service and access to GP practices remains essential to the NHS – and also to patients who want GPs to be available at core times, as well as in the evenings and at weekends.
“By curbing half-day closures we will be freeing up hundreds of thousands of appointments at a time when we know it can sometimes be tricky to see your GP.”
But Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said it was “disingenuous” to suggest practices were taking excessive time off.
She said: “It is not time lost to patients, it is usually time spent conducting telephone or online consultations or making home visits – or some of the other vital tasks that GPs and our teams are required to do, such as complying with mandatory or statutory training.”