Service charge hikes must not force practices to close, says Jeremy Hunt

The government 'wants to make sure no GP surgeries close' due to service charge hikes that have left practices across England facing up to six-figure bills, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has told MPs.

Practices face service charge hikes (Photo: iStock)
Practices face service charge hikes (Photo: iStock)

The health secretary's comments came in response to a question from Liberal Democrat Tim Farron, who warned that a practice in his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency feared it 'cannot keep going' unless a £25,000 increase in its service charge was dropped.

Mr Hunt said he would look again at the situation facing the Ambleside surgery. He added: 'The issue is that there is unevenness and unfairness in the rates charged to GPs whose surgeries belong to NHS Property Services. We are trying to make this fair across the country, but we also want to make sure that no GP surgeries close.'

The health secretary's comments come just weeks after LMC leaders warned that service charge increases had left practices 'frozen in time', with the threat of these huge additional costs making it impossible to recruit new staff or for existing partners to retire.

Around one in five GP practices across England operate from premises owned by NHS Property Services (NHSPS) or Community Health Partnerships, which manage NHS-owned estates.

Service charges

But under a move to impose market rates of rent for NHS organisations, GPs in NHSPS properties have been landed with up to six-figure increases in service charges for the use of their premises - with some warning they could be forced to close unless the charges are reversed.

GPonline reported exclusively in 2016 on warnings from GPs that practices could be forced to close unless a solution was found to address the higher service charge costs - but the issue has yet to be resolved.

NHSPS said earlier this month that service charges were 'for essentials such as cleaning and repairs'. A spokesperson said: 'Changes to subsidies are sometimes a factor behind the perception of increases when the costs have always existed.

‘We are working with the DHSC and NHS England to address these issues. Any money NHSPS makes is reinvested back into the NHS estate.’

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