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More than a thousand payments affected as practices face fresh cashflow worries

Exclusive GPs have been left unable to pay staff and face financial penalties with no chance of reimbursement due to fresh payment problems after 1,269 payments were affected due to errors with the BACS system.

NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) had to contact CCGs and area teams across the country asking them to warn practices they might receive delayed payments, although there is no indication about how many practices have been affected.

The group has apologised for any inconvenience caused, which affected a wide range of practice funding streams, including the Global Sum. But practices have been told they will receive no reimbursement for any costs incurred.

This is the latest payment problem in a chaotic year since the NHS reforms last April saw responsibility for practice payments split between NHS England, CCGs and local authorities. NHS England had said that the problems would be rectified by April, and that only two practices had been affected by them in the first six weeks of the year.

But GP leaders have warned that GPs are getting ‘fed up’ with the ongoing problems.

The latest problems occured when SBS reported its BACs payment file ‘wasn’t uploaded properly due to an unexpected technical error’.

In the letter to CCGs and NHS England local area teams, SBS said:  ‘We have investigated the cause of this and believe it to be an isolated incident; however we’re now conducting a review of our control procedures around the BACs submission process to ensure that this is not repeated.’

The group was unable to confirm for Pulse how many practices were affected, but did state that practices would not be able to get reimbursements.

A spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Within this particular BACs run, 1,269 payments were due to GPs or GP practices – however this doesn’t necessarily equate to 1,269 individual GPs or GP practices as there may have been multiple invoices for a particular practice or GP within that BACs run.’

The spokesperson added: ‘There is no reimbursement policy in this situation.’

Dr Grant Ingrams a GP in Coventry and member of the GPC – who is one of the affected GPs – told Pulse that his practice had been hit with overdraft fees after its payment from SBS was delayed.

He said: ‘All our monthly payments [have been affected], we haven’t had anything for global sum.’

He added: ‘Because we haven’t had the money in, a lot of the payments out have bounced – including the salaries for our staff. So our staff are up in arms – quite rightly.

‘We’re obviously trying to sort that out. But now they’re saying “we’re going to get charges” – again, which is quite right – and we’re going to get charges as a practice.’

‘It does mean that, as partners, we’re going to have to put another £20,000 back into the practice just in case they cock up again. Are we going to have to increase our capital account because we can no longer rely on the NHS to pay us in a timely fashion?’

Bob Senior, chair of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants and head of medical services at Baker Tilly told Pulse that the new payment model was less flexible than the old PCT system and potentially hundreds of practices could be affected.

He said: If I had to stick a finger in the air I’d say [practices receive] maybe 5 or 6 [BACs payments per practice] in a month, so it could be a couple of hundred practices affected.’

‘Very often practices have got their staff payroll scheduled to run a day or so after they’re expecting to receive their core contract payments – not all – but that commonly is the way it works.’

‘So if all of a sudden there’s a large payment not appearing, that can cause a lot of problems.’

Mr Senior added that he would advise practices to carry a cash balance that can cover at least the next staff payments, or have an overdraft capability in place – but he acknowledges the realities for practices can make this difficult.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that the GPC had been fighting against NHS England payment delays since last April.

He said: ‘I think fact that practices getting any delayed payments at this stage is unacceptable, and it’s something that SBS and NHS England must sort out as soon as possible.’

‘It is a difficult situation and I think practices have got fed up with the poor service that they’ve received.’

Adding: ‘Any delay is unacceptable for practices who have cashflow problems as soon as it happens.’