An 8,000-patient practice in Belfast has been told to pay double its rent or lose the premises, after its lease was taken over by developers.
The GP partners at Kensington Medical Centre first heard of the price hike when they received a letter asking them to pay almost twice their current rent – from around £50,000 to £91,550 a year – or move out by March.
It comes after a change of ownership the previous year when the surgery premises were bought by property developer Kingsman Medical Investments Limited from two retired GP partners.
In the letter to the practice, seen by the Irish News, Kingsman Medical Investments said the lease would be terminated by March 2019, unless they agreed to a large rent increase for the next 25 years.
Premises problems are an ongoing issue for GPs. In December, a 12,000-patient practice in Nottingham was forced to hand back its contract to NHS England due to severe financial pressures, caused in part by increasing maintenance costs for the practice building.
A recent patients survey also found four in ten patients feel their GP practice is a poor environment and that surgeries are often old, dilapidated and cramped, and require investment and expansion.
BMA Northern Ireland GP chair Dr Alan Stout said the BMA and the local LMC have been involved with the Kensington Medical Centre case, which he said represents a number of significant problems with premises.
He said: ‘It highlights the issue of premises being a real stumbling block in some areas to service continuity. Young GPs are very often not keen to buy into premises and this is becoming a block to filling partnerships.
‘We have already engaged with the Department of Health here about this problem and hope to create a solution for premises that will help to start mitigate this.’
In a statement Kingsman Medical Investments said: ‘The rent is a first offer and cannot be implemented until agreement has been reached or, in the absence of an agreement, the rent would be set by a tribunal.
‘We understand the sensitivity around this area and have been sure to communicate with the GPs that rent would need to be agreed through the Land and Property Services and could not be arbitrarily implemented.’
The Health and Social Care Board confirmed to Pulse they are working with Kensington Medical Practice ‘to support them through this period of negotiation and are confident a solution can be found’.
‘In the meantime, we would like to reassure the patients of Kensington Medical Practice that our priority is to ensure everyone has access to a local GP in Northern Ireland,’ a spokesperson said.
This comes after NHS England launched an open call for GPs to propose solutions to issues concerning GP practice premises in August, as part of the ongoing review of GP premises by NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the BMA’s GP Committee – which is expected in spring 2019.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.