Soaring premises service charges leave practices 'frozen in time', LMCs told

Practices in NHS Property Service (NHSPS) buildings that are facing soaring service charges are 'frozen in time', with GP partners unable to recruit or retire, the UK LMCs conference has heard.

During a discussion on premises Dr Gaurav Gupta from Kent LMC said that service charges in his practice had increased from £14,000 a year, to £60,000 and then £80,000, with ‘no acceptable justification’. He said there were 36 practices in Kent facing similar situations.

‘These practices are frozen in time,’ Dr Gupta said. ‘We can’t recruit, we can’t retire because of the unknown liabilities sitting on our balance sheet.

‘I’ve been fighting this for three years. It has affected my health physically and mentally and made me think about leaving the profession. I’m not saying this lightly. If you don’t fight for these practices they’ll be no one left to fight for.’

He also said that practices in this position were also unable to access transformation funding aimed at improving premises because disputes over service charges meant they could not sign leases.

An NHS Property Services spokesperson said: ‘Our service charges are for essentials such as cleaning and repairs. Changes to subsidies are sometimes a factor behind the perception of increases when the costs have always existed.

‘We are working with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to address these issues. Any money NHS Property Services makes is reinvested back into the NHS estate.’

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Full coverage from the UK LMCs conference
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Time for a fresh look at GP premises in England

Premises funding

The LMCs conference backed a motion calling on the government to fully resource GP premises.

GPC premises and practice finance lead Dr Ian Hume said: ‘The government needs to pay for premises if they want good quality. They have failed to invest over years. The Estates Technology and Transformation Fund (ETTF) has not really delivered and has deficiencies.’

NHS England’s ETTF is a multi-million pound investment programme  for GP facilities and technology that is due to run until 2019/20. However, there has been concern that these funds are not reaching practices and that some surgeries are not receiving the level of support they need. Ahead of the budget last November, the RCGP asked the chancellor Philip Hammond to extend the ETTF to ensure premises were fit for the 21st century.

Last month property developer Assura said that funding announced for new-build primary care schemes identified for investment under the ETTF was 'insufficient for full implementation of all the schemes identified'.

Dr Hume said that the GPC was looking at premises across the UK and will be looking closely at developments in Scotland.

Under the new Scottish GP contract, which comes into effect next month, all GP partners who own their premises will be offered interest-free 'GP sustainability loans' to help reduce costs.

For practices in leased premises, regional NHS boards will take over responsibility for their leases - with the Scottish government stating that its long-term strategy is that 'no GP contractor will need to enter a lease with a private landlord for GP practice premises'.

During the debate Dr Martin Breach from Mid Mersey LMC also said that tax rules needed to change to ensure that all GP practices who signed new leases were able to have stamp duty land tax reimbursed. At present, only those practices in NHSPS buildings are entitled to this.

‘It’s unfair, inequitable that some practices benefit from this support and some have to bear this cost depending on who the landlord is,’ he said.

Full coverage from the UK LMCs conference

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