BMA launches legal action over GP service charge hikes

The BMA is launching legal action over 'unjustifiable' increases in service charges for practices that work from premises owned by NHS Property Services (NHSPS).

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: Pete Hill)

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told the English LMCs conference on Friday that the association is to press ahead with a 'legal test claim' that could provide a template for hundreds of practices to 'defend unlawful claims for service charges by NHSPS'.

The announcement comes just a day after GPonline reported that unresolved disputes over service charges have wasted huge amounts of time and money for some practices and left them unable to plan financially or to recruit.

Around 1,250 GP practices in England operate from premises owned by NHSPS - a DHSC-owned company set up in 2011 to manage and improve NHS estates. But the BMA says service charge rises imposed by NHSPS have seen one practice 'invoiced for fees for a lift that didn’t exist', others charged for services for which they had already paid, and some handed bills with no clear breakdown.

Service charges

The association will now press ahead with a High Court claim 'on behalf of five practices that have been subject to unjust increases in service charges and fees'.

Dr Vautrey told the LMCs conference: 'It’s not acceptable that practices in NHSPS premises are left to pick up the cost of an unjustifiable hike in charges. We must and we will stand up for GPs and take legal action when it’s necessary to defend our profession.'

The Leeds GP delivered a warning to the government over GP morale, calling for action to tackle the impact of punitive pensions taxation on the NHS workforce, and warning that the NHS has 'a huge task to do to reduce unsafe workload' in general practice.

He criticised the government over its failure to tackle medicines shortages - with more than 100 medicines prescribed in primary care currently out of stock and GPs facing a knock-on impact on workload and potential funding cuts as rising costs hit CCG budgets.

Primary care networks

The GPC chair thanked 'over 1,250 clinicians who have taken on the role of clinical director' in primary care networks (PCNs) set up across England this year - calling the rollout of PCNs a 'remarkable achievement'.

But he called on LMCs to support clinical directors to 'say no' and protect them from unmanageable workload. Dr Vautrey said: 'Earlier this year we launched a survey of clinical directors, and preliminary results have found that almost half classed their own workload as unmanageable, while almost two-thirds said the same about practice workload.'

The GPC chair acknowledged that the five-year GP contract deal that took effect from April is no more than 'a start' towards solving the problems faced by general practice.

'None of us are under any illusions that the contract deal solves all our problems; far from it,' Dr Vautrey said.

'It’s a start, but only that. We still have a huge task to do to reduce unsafe workload burdens, to change the ridiculous pension arrangements that penalise hard-working GPs, to resolve problems with premises, to deal with the repeated failings of Capita, to attract and retain more GPs and above all to improve GP morale.

'Workload pressure, compounded by the continued fall in GP numbers, is putting our patients at risk. It’s good that so far political parties have listened to us and not included counter-productive access targets in their election statements, as a strategy of just beating an already overwhelmed workforce harder will not improve the service we can deliver. Instead political parties must prioritise protecting patients and GPs’ sanity, and that means a commitment to three things: investment, investment, investment.'

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