Senior MP calls for second home tax to protect GP services

A senior Liberal Democrat has called on the government to impose a tax on second homes to fund GP services in rural areas.

Tim Farron MP: protect rural GP practices
Tim Farron MP: protect rural GP practices

Party president Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem, South Lakes) asked David Cameron in prime minister’s question time on Wednesday to allow councils to impose higher taxes on 'wealthy second home owners' to create a ‘a ring-fenced fund to support those vital rural services’.

Excessive second home ownership in rural areas was damaging services including GP practices by reducing demand and putting them at risk of closure, said Mr Farron.

David Cameron told MPs the government had allowed councils to charge more tax on second homes. He said more homes were being built to shore up local services.

Strategic rural GP fund

Last month Mr Farron introduced a bill to create a  £500,000 'strategic fund' to protect around 35 rural practices hit by MPIG cuts.

The fund would  be drawn from the existing DH budget, and share out around £500,000 between eligible practices based on need.

The General Practitioner Surgeries (Rural Areas) Bill 2014/15 aims to support practices such as Dr Karen Massey’s Slaidburn Health Centre, in Lancashire.

Dr Massey told GP last year that her practice – which faces losses worth tens of thousands of pounds – could become unviable after the first year of MPIG cuts.

Parliamentary bill

The bill’s first reading in parliament came on 21 October, and campaigners are hopeful it could become law before the next general election.

A statement from Mr Farron warned that some practices were losing 35% of their funding under MPIG cuts, warning that vital services in countryside communities would be undermined if the practices became unviable.

He said: ‘In the last couple of years we have worked hard to secure major investment for surgeries throughout South Lakeland. Many of the practices now hold clinics and do minor surgery. I hope that this bill I have proposed will be supported by the government and we can safeguard our GP practices.

‘I will keep fighting as hard as I can to defend our rural GP practices - they are at the heart of communities like Hawkshead and Coniston.’

The bill’s second reading in parliament is scheduled for 9 January 2015.

Jonathan Stanley, A&E doctor and UKIP prospective parliamentary candidate in Mr Farron’s constituency, said: ‘'It is easy to link one tax or a transfer of funding to a policy but no one believes this money is new, and he hasn't announced what cuts will be made elsewhere to fund it.

'I am calling for the NHS instead to fund rural practices directly to retrain and validate GPs who are returning or want to return from overseas who are currently treated the same way as foreign doctors.  I have told GP magazine that £80,000, split between a practice and returning GP over a year, would back £400,000 worth of medical training.  That is a 500% return to boost NHS capacity with UK trained doctors without taxing anyone, it actually saves money very quickly.'

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