GP practices owe £202m in unpaid premises fees to government-owned NHS Property Services (NHS PS) and Community Health Partnerships (CHP), a health minister has revealed.
This latest figure, up to the end of 2017/18, represents a £79m increase compared with the previous year, when practices owed £123m to the two companies, as revealed by our sister publication Pulse.
In response GP leaders have said the charges are ‘a significant threat to general practice’ and must be ‘abandoned’.
Pulse recently revealed that some local areas have come to their own agreements over premises charges, with potentially hundreds of thousands of unpaid fees written off for GPs in Northumberland.
NHS PS and CHP took over the leases for GP practices in rented premises from primary care trusts (PCTs) when they were abolished in 2013.
During the switch it was found that many leases were operated without contracts and that PCTs had been subsidising premises fees at vastly varying levels.
Since then, NHS PS has increased rent in line with the market value of properties. Meanwhile, services charges payable by practices have increased as commissioners have cut subsidies – sometimes by six-figure sums.
But there has been little clarity for practices about why their charges have changed and what parts will continue to be reimbursable in the longer term, according to the BMA.
Negotiations to resolve the issue between the BMA’s GP committee and the property companies broke down late last year, with the BMA adding that there has been little progress since.
The government has previously said GP partners would have to pay half of the outstanding fees themselves, with the other half reimbursable by NHS England.
Health minister Steve Brine revealed in a written parliamentary statement published on 11 July that GP practices owed £202m in rent and other charges at the end of 2017/18.
But he was unable to say how many practices had been given funding and not paid the charges to NHS PS and CHP.
‘At the end of the 2017/18 financial year, £202m of rent and associated charges was recorded as overdue from GPs in the two companies’ accounts,’ he said in the statement.
‘NHS England and clinical commissioning groups provide funding to GPs for premises costs. There is no centrally held assessment of numbers of GP practices who have received premises funding and not paid it to either of the companies,’ he added.
The BMA has long advised GPs not to pay the overdue premises fees unless they are ‘satisfied as to the legal basis upon which they are payable and their accuracy’.
Meanwhile, in recent months NHS PS has sent out ‘threatening’ letters to GPs over the unpaid fees.
BMA GPC executive team member Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘GP practices, already under pressure because of workforce shortages and underinvestment, have been frustrated by this ongoing dispute with NHS Property Services and Community Health Partnership.
‘NHS PS and CHP have made unilateral changes to how these charges have been calculated without considering the burden this places on individual practices. They must resolve this issue which they’ve created.’
‘Until this is rectified, these costs, which have escalated exponentially, are a significant threat to general practice.
‘The DHSC, NHS PS and CHP must abandon this damaging policy and work with the BMA to protect GPs and their surgeries,’ he added.
A spokesperson for NHS Property Services said: ‘We are focussed on reducing the amount owed by discussing these legitimate property costs with individual practices and local NHS partners.
‘More than a third of the outstanding amount is for rent and other reimbursable costs, which GPs claim back from their commissioners. In many cases, actual service costs have not significantly changed, but were previously funded by the wider NHS. It is important that bills are paid so that we can continue to reinvest in the NHS estate.’
Management in Practice has approached CHP for comment.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.