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Urgent work needed to prepare for bank holiday, says NHS England

Urgent work needed to prepare for bank holiday, says NHS England
By Costanza Potter
12 September 2022

Primary care professionals should be supported to observe next Monday’s bank holiday for the Queen’s state funeral, NHS England has said.

In a letter sent to ICBs today, NHS England sets 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 ‘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’.

The letter tasks NHS England regional teams and delegated ICBs, to work with dental and community pharmacy providers to confirm available services on the bank holiday and that optometry practices, which can choose to open on Bank Holidays, inform their commissioners if their opening hours differ to their contractual obligations.

The letter also flags the likelihood of closures among schools and childcare settings, impacting childcare arrangements and the potential of reduced opening hours of supermarkets affecting in-store pharmacies hours.

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’.

It comes as NHS England has paused non-essential communications until after the Queen’s state funeral.

Healthcare leaders paid tribute to the Queen following her death on Thursday last week.

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