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GP leaders call for ‘Scottish model’ interest-free loans on premises

GP leaders in Northern Ireland want GPs to have the option of an interest-free loan to enable the NHS to take over responsibility for premises, emulating the offer which has been introduced in Scotland.

BMA Northern Ireland’s GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout told Pulse they are in early talks to get a deal on GPs premises but are aiming for a model ‘very similar’ to Scotland.

Under the Scottish contract which came into force from April, practices will be offered sustainability loans to help cover the costs of premises, with the intention that GPs will ‘no longer own their premises’ by 2043.

The introduction of the loans is staggered but will be made available to every GP contractor who owns their premises by March 2023.

Dr Stout said they were entering into talks with the Department of Health and would hope to get agreement quite quickly.

‘Members are coming routinely to us with problems on premises.

‘It could be very similar to the Scottish model but over a much shorter timeframe. We would want to keep an optional element, this won’t suit everybody.’

He added that premises was one of his top priorities as he takes over from Dr Tom Black as GPC chair.

GPC Northern Ireland recently told Pulse that GPs could roll back on plans to resign from the NHS as a group following a raft of measures designed to ease pressure on the profession.

Investment in plans for multi-disciplinary teams and a programme to get every practice access to a community pharmacist have helped to ease some pressure but premises remains a major sticking point.

But Dr Stout added that premises was also a major factor deterring younger GPs from taking up partnership roles.

‘At the moment you have a situation where a doctor has dedicated their entire working life to the NHS and general practice and at the point of retirement are almost having to bankrupt themselves. That is not a position anyone should be in and its hugely unfair.

He added that often ‘a young doctor is prepared to work in a practice but doesn’t necessarily want to take on the whole business model and risk that goes with that’. 

‘So you have a practice that can staff itself but cannot find new partners. We need an option to offer those practices that are struggling.’

In England a review on premises is ongoing.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee premises lead said there were fundamental problems with premises in England at present including service charges, the incongruence between the core contract and leases, and last partner standing.

‘We are currently engaged with the premises review group which we hope will recommend potential solutions to these problems once they have heard from the profession.

‘We hope that they include the NHS taking steps to reduce and perhaps share the risks and liabilities currently solely carried by GP partners.’

GP leaders in Wales are also in talks on premises as part of new contract negotiations and said a number of options were on the table.