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NHS England forced to step in after GPs threatened with court action over delayed payments

Exclusive NHS England has been forced to step in and contact suppliers after five practices were threatened with bailiffs due to problems with late or overdue payments, Pulse has learnt.

The practices in Doncaster were told to forward any unpaid bills to the area team after they were given court orders due to unpaid bills for basic services - such as rent and heating - because they were not reimbursed for them by NHS Shared Business Services.

LMC leaders said at least five of the 44 practices in the city had been given court orders, and warned that the problems have been ongoing since April and have shown no signs of improving.

Pulse reported that one practice in London had been approached by bailiffs, but this is the first time there have been reports of numerous practices in one region all facing potential seizure of property.

The problem of payment chaos has left some practices needing to take out overdrafts, while other practices has been receiving late and incomprehensible payments that have left them with cashflow problems.

Doncaster LMC medical secretary Dr Dean Eggitt said NHS England’s local area team had been ‘good’ in trying to help practices with the court orders and bills via an interim solution. He added, however, that the LMC remained in the dark about the details of that interim plan and practices were still concerned about their future financial viability.

He said: ‘So far I am aware of five practices who have received court orders, out of a total of 44 practices… The reason they have received court orders is because large sums of money are outstanding that should have been paid by NHS SBS that haven’t been paid.’

‘These are all reimbursable costs, such as practice premises and heating, all that sort of stuff that is usually reimbursed. Some of the bills that have been coming through for practices to pay run into hundreds of thousands of pounds so it is impossible for practices to pay these.’

Dr Eggitt said the local area team is ‘taking on the burden of payment’. However, he added: ‘Quite how they are doing that I don’t know.’

He added: ‘At the moment out practices are just forwarding their bills to the area team. [This will continue] until NHS SBS sorts out their problems, I assume, and Lord knows how long that is going to be.’

‘Unfortunately, nobody seems to know where any money lies, who is responsible for paying what. So practices were concerned that they were going to have to foot the bill for this and that they would go into bankruptcy, just simply for defaulting on these bills… It is all still very scary.’

Dr Eggitt added that the problems have been ongoing since April and there are no signs of the situation improving. He said: ‘If [practices] are given their payments, it comes into the bank with no real tag attached and nobody knows what the money is allocated for. There is no paper trail anymore to find out where the money came from. Practice managers are pulling their hair out.’

A spokesperson for NHS England’s South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw area team said: ‘We are aware of a small number of problems with the payment of invoices relating back to the early days of the area team’s establishment on 1 April 2013. We continue to talk to practices in the area to identify and resolve any issues in relation to this.’

Previously, Pulse has reported that up to 10% of English GPs have been affected by NHS England payment issues since April, including unidentifiable, late or incomplete payments that have led to practices being approached by bailiffs and having to take out overdrafts. Earlier this month, Pulse reported that a joint working group with representatives from NHS England, GPC, SBS and IT services had been set up to try to resolve the issues nationally.

A spokesperson from NHS SBS was not available for comment.