Commercial property specialist at law firm DAC Beachcroft, Nathan East, said premises hurdles could be a ‘significant fly in the ointment’ for the government’s scheme.
The prime minister announced earlier this week the pilot of extended opening from 8am to 8pm seven days a week in ‘pioneer practices’.
The scheme is a first step towards rolling out extended hours across the country, ministers said, echoing plans for wider access to GP practices rolled out by former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009.
GPC negotiator, Dr Peter Holden, said planning problems were a real possibility in some areas. Problems would be more likely to affect smaller practices in converted residential buildings rather than purpose built premises, he said.
Mr East explained there were two possible hurdles. Any practice could come up against planning authority restrictions, particularly in residential areas, which could be a ‘big obstacle’ to extended opening hours. While practices in rented buildings could also face separate restrictions written into their lease. Challenging and altering these restrictions could be costly, he warned, and even lead to rent increases.
‘It not automatic,' he said. ‘People are going to have to be alive to these issues and look at what their own property situation tells them.’
He advised GPs: ‘GPs must check the planning restrictions and lease covenants that apply to their buildings as most will not currently be able to alter opening times without first amending their planning status and lease conditions.'
He added: ‘It will be interesting to see how quickly the pilot schemes are able to circumnavigate these roadblocks.’
A DH spokesperson said: 'Any practice that wants to apply to become a pioneer site and offer extended services must make sure this will not break the terms of their lease. Practices are already aware of the need to consider any planning restrictions when looking at services they want to provide.
'The issue of any lease or planning restrictions will be considered when reviewing the results of the extended hours arrangements next summer.'