PCTs hire debt collectors to claim GP service charges

PCTs are using debt collectors to claim service charges they believe practices owe, to ensure their books are in order before they are replaced by CCGs in April, GP leaders warn.

Dr Tony Grewal: situation in London is chaotic
Dr Tony Grewal: situation in London is chaotic

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said several London PCTs had hired debt collectors to collect service charges from PCT-owned premises but added that he suspects ‘there will be more’ across the country.

Dr Holden is advising practices not to pay up unless there is a written agreement in place between the PCT and the practice outlining the charges.

A GP magazine investigation last September found that 446 GP practices across 132 PCTs in England that responded to a Freedom of Information request had no signed agreement for service charges.

Dr Holden said: ‘My advice to practices is to ask the PCT to show them where it says in writing that they owe them this money.

‘If there is nothing in writing that says you have to pay a service charge, then there is nothing to pay. If however there is a written agreement and the PCT have been too idle to collect it then it is a different ball game.’

Londonwide LMCs' medical director Dr Tony Grewal said he had heard of one PCT in the capital, which he refused to identify, that had ‘vigorously approached’ three practices. All three are continuing to refuse to pay fees the PCT claims are outstanding.

‘It hasn’t got to the level of threats,’ he said. ‘It is a fairly chaotic situation [across London] with some PCTs pulling service charges out of thin air.

‘The line we are taking is if there was a proper lease and proper service agreement and the PCT forgot to collect then you can negotiate a payment period.

‘We are asking practices to look for a detailed breakdown for claiming retrospectively.

‘They need to make sure they get from the PCT what services are being delivered to be sure what they are paying for is reasonable.’

Dr Holden said that PCTs have started to employ such tactics to get their books in order for when they are replaced by CCGs in April.

‘PCTs will realise that they have dropped an almighty clanger. What they are trying to do is be heavy before April. If PCTs want to try this we will make sure that they are duly embarrassed.

‘They have no right to do this.’

All PCTs in London have been approached for comment. A spokesman for the Outer North East London PCT cluster said that none of its four PCTs had hired a debt collector to claim back service charges from GP practices. The rest of the PCT clusters have yet to respond.

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