NHS Property Services (NHSPS) accounts filed with Companies House reveal that four executive directors were paid bonuses worth between £30,000 and £80,000 in 2017/18 - on top of annual salaries worth between £130,000 and £225,000.
The bonuses came in a financial year when the government revealed that sharp increases in service charges - worth six-figure sums for some practices - left GPs in debt to the tune of £202m in 'rent and associated charges'. The 2017/18 financial year also saw NHSPS record a £40.9m operating loss.
Around one in five GP practices across England operate from premises owned by NHSPS or Community Health Partnerships, which have managed the NHS-owned estates since PCTs were abolished in 2013. GP leaders have been warning since 2016 that huge extra costs imposed through service charge hikes could force practices to close if they were not reversed.
Service charge hike
GPC premises lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni told GPonline: 'In recent years, GPs leasing their surgery buildings from NHSPS have been hit by rocketing service charges and maintenance fees, forcing many practices into financial difficulties, and ultimately leading some to consider their viability and whether they can continue to offer the same care to patients in future.
'At a time when the NHS is under so much financial pressure and NHSPS publicly blames these same practices for its £40.9m deficit, it adds insult to injury to learn it has paid its top executives such sky-high bonuses.'
Major health union Unite also criticised the 'disgraceful' bonuses. Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said: 'The NHS is in crisis, yet this outsourced health agency chose to award senior directors tens of thousands of pounds in bumper bonuses.
'NHSPS is meant to be using its expertise to manage its portfolio of 3,500 buildings and should not be used as a conduit to give spectacularly ill-judged bonuses when the NHS is looking for every penny to enhance frontline services for patients.'
A spokesperson for NHSPS said that in the 2017/18 financial year it had delivered '£17.7m in cost savings, £56.8m in capital receipts and invested £68.5m in upgrading the health estate'.
NHSPS says that directors’ bonuses are 'tied to the delivery of challenging efficiency and improvement targets' and agreed with the DHSC. Their targets include 'cost-reduction, liquidity, cash release, service delivery and additional specific, individual personal targets related to their respective roles'.
The spokesperson said that service charge rises followed the introduction in 2015/16 of 'a new transparent basis of billing as agreed with the DHSC in order to reflect the true cost of occupancy'.
NHSPS said that 'rent and service charges should be based on accurate property information, such as the precise amount of space used, and reflect the actual costs of the facilities management services provided for that space, e.g. cleaning, reception services and maintenance'.
Some GPs had seen costs increase because data to set accurate charges had not been available in the past, the organisation said. The spokesperson added: 'NHSPS recognises a requirement from its customers to explain any billing changes fully and accurately and is focused on improving the quality of this. NHSPS continues to work with GPs to help resolve any charging issues and NHS England will help address local funding problems.'