The BMA survey of more than 1,000 practices across the country found that only half of GPs and practice managers felt their premises were suitable for present needs, while 80% predicted that their premises would not be fit for the future.
Despite eight in ten of the surveyed practices being purpose-built, common problems included a lack of space - both in terms of consulting rooms and waiting areas - compounded by growing list sizes. A lack of disabled access was also cited as a widespread issue.
The findings are broadly in line with a GPonline survey published in October, in which one in three GP partners described their premises as not fit for purpose.
Of the BMA survey respondents who said they had applied to NHS England for improvement grants, the majority reported waiting for three to six months to receive information, while some reported waiting for more than two years.
The survey also revealed problems with service charges in practices that lease their premises from NHS organisations. Some 80% of these practices said they had be invoiced with charges that were inaccurate in the last 12 months, with only 5% reporting these issues had since been resolved.
This comes as NHS England prepares to publish the findings of its premises policy review, launched last year to ensure that the primary care estate is 'fit for purpose both now and in the future'.
In light of the survey’s findings, the BMA is urging the government to use next month’s spending review to invest in GP premises, and has called on health leaders to remove the bureaucratic barriers that often prevent practices carrying out improvements.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘GPs have been telling us for years that their practice buildings are not up to scratch, and now we have evidence showing just how serious the situation is… Without more space and the ability to add rooms and facilities easily, patients will continue to face long waits for appointments, as GPs and their wider practice staff can only work with what they have.’
Dr Vautrey said that the solution to premises problems ‘is not as simple as partners adding rooms or extending their surgeries to meet demand’, thanks to ‘arduous’ approval processes and problematic NHS grant applications.
He continued: ‘GPs who lease their buildings from the NHS face their own set of problems, with rocketing and unwarranted service charges and management fees often not met with adequate maintenance. At a time when GPs are facing extreme financial pressures, these unilateral price rises could push practices to the brink.’
Byfield Medical Centre in Northamptonshire is one practice that has experienced problems accessing improvement funding. Practice manager Tracey Rymer said: ‘Our premises were built in 1981 and renovated in 1992. We are a fairly remote practice, with a limited bus service, and the nearest other practice is eight miles away. The population has grown significantly from 4,500 to 8,200 and we simply do not have enough space to provide ample resources for residents, many of whom are elderly and without access to transport.
‘There is no dedicated area for staff to rest or eat, nor are there any meeting rooms or space for training. We are constantly having to juggle rooms to accommodate our staff. Our dispensary is unable to take advantage of cheaper bulk ordering as we don’t have enough storage space.
'We have put in two bids to NHS England for funding for a new practice but were told on each occasion we were not a priority despite having the backing of our local group of GPs.’
Dr Vautrey added: ‘NHS England is due to publish the findings of its major review into GP practice premises, and we hope that it will provide some solutions to the problems persistently raised by our members.
‘The government must use next month’s spending review to urgently invest in practice premises – as well as wider NHS infrastructure – to bring facilities up to 21st century standards and ensure that GPs and their colleagues throughout the health service can guarantee the best care now and in the future.’