GP premises investment scheme hit by credit crunch
By Nigel Praities
Exclusive: A flagship Government initiative to regenerate GP premises through partnership with the private sector is being badly hit by the economic downturn, a Pulse investigation reveals.
Figures obtained from 43 PCTs show approved investment under the NHS Local Improvement Finance Trust scheme – or LIFT - has slumped by half since April this year.
The Government launched Express LIFT in January 2009 in an effort to accelerate investment through the initiative, but the credit squeeze looks to be ruining its plans.
Over 2008/9, £127m of investment was approved in LIFT schemes, but in the four months since April only £21m of investment has been signed off.
So far this year just three PCTs said they had approved a LIFT scheme.
Bob Senior, partner at accountancy firm Tenon, said: ‘Historically, companies have been able to go to lenders and borrow lots of money for schemes where they think they will get a return, and they were very keen to invest in those areas.
'But now, banks are willing to lend but they are charging higher margins for that money and that can have an impact on the profitability of these schemes. Some of the private companies are finding they cant quite make the numbers work in the way they were able to before,' he said.
Dr Roy Macgregor, a GP who has recently moved into a new LIFT surgery in North London, said LIFT could deliver ‘great things' but both PCTs and private companies were now more reluctant to commit.
‘In the private sector it is difficult to secure funding and the screws are being tightened on PCTs. They are much less likely to be ambitious in their estate planning when they have got serious concerns about their budgets.
‘LIFT is perceived as being an expensive, but in terms of value for money, the building is being maintained and in 25 years it will not be so expensive for the NHS,' he said.
GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said the figures were concerning as the focus on LIFT had meant there had been little money for maintaining current premises.
‘In the areas where these schemes occur, nobody else in the PCT can get a look in. All other projects have effectively been frozen for twelve years. There has been very little new building and we have ageing estate stock.
‘The rate-limiting factors for practices and patients, is that we simply have nowhere to put them. Many of the buildings are not that pleasant to work in - they tend to be built by Sheds R Us,' he said.
The Kentish Town Health Centre in North London is an example of what LIFT can achieve for practices.
The £10.1m centre is built around a central atrium, with consulting rooms, an exhibition space, meeting rooms, a library and rooms equipped for minor surgery.
The surgery was nominated for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture this month and was described as ‘uplifting' and a ‘Finsbury Health Centre for the 21st century' by the judges.
Dr Roy Macgregor, a GP at the practice and an NHS Design Champion, said the new building had made a big difference to the way the surgery runs.
‘The design itself delivers an integrated service, people can stop and talk to each other. It has solved our premises problems after 12 years of rising damp, subsidence and heating problems,' he said.