Practice fears 'homelessness' after premises move delay

GPs at an east London practice have said they fear the service could be left homeless because of delays in finding new premises.

Merchant Street practice: concern over premises (Photo: Google)
Merchant Street practice: concern over premises (Photo: Google)

Partners at Merchant Street Practice in Bow said they have been left anxious for its future after delays dealing with NHS bodies overseeing a move to new premises, which they fear could leave them homeless when the lease expires on their current building later this year.

The practice has spent the past 40 years in an old converted church building, which is not fit for purpose and which its owner is looking to sell.

Dr Sangeeta Rana-Masson said the property is so cramped GPs were forced to convert a stationery cupboard for consultations. The practice, designed to serve a list of 3,000 patients, now serves over 5,000 and is not compliant with disability access legislation. The building requires renovation work and has a damp problem. The landlord, a church charity, is now looking to sell the property.

Lease due to expire

The practice’s lease expires in December 2015, but the partners fear delays in arranging an agreed move to an existing medical centre could leave them with without premises.

Dr Rana-Masson said the practice has been trying to move for over 10 years but encountered a series of setbacks and delays.

A plan to move to an NHS Property Services-owned building in the next street was initially agreed by the PCT in 2011 and funding for necessary redevelopments secured. But the plans were put on hold when NHS England took control, and then downgraded.

The practice agreed to revised plans in February 2014, but said it has heard very little since. The partners fear there are no contingency plans in case the move falls through.

‘It is becoming very urgent because we only have 12 months,' said Dr Rana-Masson. ‘We need somebody to speed up the process and at least give us a timescale for when [the new premises] will be ready. I think it will be unlikely we can move in January 2016. We need a contingency plan.’

NHS England was aware the premises could be sold, she added. ‘I don’t get any sense of urgency from them.’

Lack of capacity

Dr Rana-Masson said she believed NHS England lacked the capacity and resources to deal with the situation.

'We can’t meet with them,' she said. ‘Getting information is incredibly difficult as they are very slow to respond to emails and then pass the responsibility to someone else who does not respond.’

But when contacted by GP, NHS England and NHS Property Services said the practice will have news of their new premises within the next month.

Tower Hamlets LMC chairwoman Dr Jackie Applebee said it was ‘disgraceful’ that staff and patients have to tolerate inadequate premises which have been unchanged for over 40 years.

‘General practice is under such pressure, it is testament to the dedication of this practice team that they continue to provide an excellent service,' said Dr Applebee.

'The story of Merchant Street is yet another which illustrates the chaos caused by the Health and Social Care Act, where the responsibility for premises passed from the PCT to the massively scaled down NHS England, which does not have the personnel or the financial resources to engage in general practice premises projects.’

Complex patient needs

A spokesperson for NHS England London said: 'We are fully aware of the importance of ensuring that the Merchant Street Practice can continue to meet the complex needs of its patients after the current lease expires at the end of this year.

'We are working with partners, including NHS Property Services, to make this happen as quickly as possible and expect the situation to have progressed further within the next month.'

An NHS Property Services spokeswoman said: ‘We are committed to ensuring this practice can move into new accommodation that meets all relevant clinical standards and provides a more pleasant environment for patients, by the time the lease on its current premises expires.

‘We are working with a number of partners including NHS England, Tower Hamlets CCG and the borough council, to explore future accommodation options for the practice, and we expect to be able to present a preferred option to GPs within the next month.’

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