12,000-patient practice forced to hand back contract after service charge hike

A 12,000-patient GP practice in Nottinghamshire has been forced to hand back its contract after a 'large increase' in service charges triggered resignations amid concerns over its financial viability.

Practice closure (Photo: iStock.com/shank_ali)
Practice closure (Photo: iStock.com/shank_ali)

Partners at the Whyburn Medical Practice (WMP) in Hucknall announced plans to hand back their PMS contract to NHS England last week after the business became ‘financially unviable’.

A statement released by the practice reads: ‘For several years, WMP has been subject to a large increase in the service charge relating to the NHS Property Services-owned building that it resides in, leading to a dispute.’

A new GP partner resigned over the soaring charges and a new GP trainee who was set to join the practice decided to take a position elsewhere, the practice has said.

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More than 1,100 GP practices have closed or merged under NHS England

A statement published on the practice website says: ‘Given the wider national issue of difficulties in GP recruitment, coupled with the fact that WMP faces a further two GP partners retiring in the near future, the situation was felt to be untenable. In essence, the grave concerns regarding the financial unsustainability of WMP have made an already difficult recruitment situation impossible, and this has resulted in an inability to move forward or plan for the future.

‘The GP partners at WMP have tried tirelessly to find a solution to these problems, exploring all avenues, but without success. It is, therefore, with huge amount of sadness that they feel unable to continue to provide a safe, high quality service to their patients. This regrettably has left them with no other option than to hand back their PMS contract.’

Earlier this year the DHSC revealed that practices owe £202m in unpaid fees to NHS Property Services and Community Health Partnerships - which own around one in five GP premises in England.

GP leaders have been warning since 2016 that service charge increases - some reaching six-figures - could force practices to close if they were not reversed.

Speaking to GPonline Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC executive team lead for premises, said: 'This is an example of the kind of problems practices throughout the country are facing, with GPs and their teams being forced to work in inadequate premises, and partners facing sky-high service charges for property maintenance that is rarely carried out.

'At a time when we’re steadily losing GP partners, premises is one of the key areas where the risk of buying into a practice is slowly outweighing the advantages that go with it. Our members consistently raise issues about premises and we’ll be feeding these in to the government’s ongoing review.'

PMS contract

Dr James Hopkinson, clinical lead at Nottingham North and East CCG hit out at the situation facing Whyburn Medical Practice: ‘We’re saddened that Whyburn Practice has made the difficult decision to hand back their contract.

‘We recognise that the partners have been facing a number of challenges and trying for some time to recruit additional GPs and other clinicians. We’ve been working closely with them to help address the issues and while we are very disappointed that they have arrived at this decision, we appreciate it is one that will not have been taken lightly.’

The practice - which serves roughly 12,000 patients and is rated 'good' by the CQC - will complete the required six-month notice period before its contract comes to an end on 31 May 2019.

The CCG is working with NHS England to ‘examine the options for the provision of primary care services’ in the future. This ‘may include looking at procuring a new provider’ for the practice.

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