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GPs concerned over NHS Property Services ‘teething problems’

20 September 2013

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Exclusive Healthcare leaders claim that since NHS Property Services took charge of maintaining and updating premises on 1 April 2013, renovations have ground to a halt. 

But the organisation’s chief executive Simon Holden rejected the suggestions as “completely wrong”, pointing to examples of ongoing work.  

He said: “Given the unprecedented scale of the NHS reforms less than six months ago, I don’t believe that anyone would be surprised by some early challenges as new teams in new organisations work together to deliver the improvements that we all want to see.”

However, NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said in his experience it has been “very difficult” to get decisions made about what can be developed. 

Dr Dixon said: “Not only is this an enormous problem for people who want to update their services at a time when we are being told to so, but also for building developers themselves. 

“When you consider that many practices need updating to comply with the Care Quality Commission’s (CQCs) regulations, it’s a total catch-22. But the problem is, we haven’t got the facts and figures on how much money is around and what it’s being used for.” 

Practices must be “safe and accessible” to fulfil one of the 16 essential standards tested by the CQC. But official figures show that a third of practices in England (32%) do not currently make the grade. 

When Management in Practice attempted to clarify how many new projects were being taken on by NHS Property Services we were told the information is not held centrally. 

However, the organisation was able to provide two examples of remodelling work being carried out in GP practices in Leicestershire and Kent. 

‘Control agenda’

NHS Property Services was created to improve the management of NHS properties, facilities and estates from 1 April 2013, operating locally with four regional directorates.  

The private company, owned by the Secretary of State for Health, is responsible for managing and developing the NHS premises in England which were formerly managed by primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, from GP practices to administrative buildings. 

In some areas NHS Property Services has subcontracted their duties out to the local hospital trust. Bexley-based GP leader Dr Kosta Manis described his issues with the arrangement between NHS Property Services, Oxleas Trust and one of his sites.

He said: “We do have regular meetings with those two agencies but there have been some problems with communications, accountability, contractual arrangements and rent among others, which we are now sorting out, although there are still some concerns about VAT since the agency became a company.

“I think the service is still experiencing teething problems, because of potential links with local improvement finance trust (LIFT) companies, mergers with Community Health Partnership, tax liabilities, unaffordable charges, etc. I wonder whether NHS Property Services are but yet another stage in the NHS England’s attempt to centralise the NHS, despite the fact that the company is wholly owned by the Department of Health.”

And Dr Peter Swinyard, former British Medical Association (BMA) Premises committee chair emphatically agrees that removing responsibility for premises from the primary care commissioners could be a step towards NHS England control. 

The Family Doctor Association chair said: “It’s to some extent part of the control agenda. NHS Property Services has control over the premises, NHS England has control over the services GPs provide, what they pay us, and on top of that, now we’re being inspected to death.

“There has been a chronic underinvestment in premises. No one is doing any long-term planning and no one is looking to provide the investment necessary.”

As the primary care commissioners NHS England decide when to fund GP practice improvement or development schemes, with NHS Property Services only able to begin works on their call. 

Holden, the NHS Property Services chief executive added: “We are absolutely committed to delivering safe, efficient, sustainable and modern healthcare facilities for all who use our premises and will continue to work with our new partners to achieve this.

“We inherited some 4,000 properties across the country; bringing together 3,000 staff from 160 different organisations. I am proud of the work of our teams across the country in working closely with their local partners to ensure continuity of services and improvements against a backdrop of whole scale system change.”

This article was amended on 26 September 2013 to include additional background information and a full response from NHS Property Services.