NHS Property Services (NHSPS) has claimed that it has reached ‘agreements’ with 97% of its tenants, but Pulse has learned that GP practices may have had these imposed upon them.
It comes amid ongoing disputes between GP practices and the company, most recently with NHSPS counter-suing five GP practices, supported by the BMA, for £1.3m-worth of what it claims are unpaid premises fees.
In an interview with HSJ earlier this week, NHSPS said that 97% of its properties now have ‘deemed agreements’ in place over tenancy details, after the Government told it to reach such agreements with tenants in 95% of its properties by March this year.
The report recommended that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) should set out a clear timetable for NHSPS to agree tenancy details with all tenants, alongside clear debt recovery targets.
However, the BMA told Pulse that practices may not have ‘expressly given agreement’ and warned that any changes to their tenancy should not be ‘imposed upon them unilaterally’.
Dr Gaurav Gupta, BMA GP Committee premises policy lead, said: ‘NHSPS has not made it clear what it means by “deemed agreements” but we understand that NHSPS’s approach is to interpret that a legal agreement has been reached even where the GP practice has not expressly given its agreement.
‘The BMA remains clear that any changes to GP practices’ terms of occupancy and service charges should be agreed with practices openly, and not imposed upon them unilaterally by NHSPS.’
An NHSPS spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Deemed agreements confirm that an occupier is occupying a certain area of our estate. There is no contract or legal document that is signed to confirm this and the understanding is reached through a conversation between NHSPS and a GP to confirm occupation. In the main this is done through our collaborative Annual Charging Schedule check in process with GPs so that we can have better knowledge of occupancy rates.
‘Rent and service charges are agreed openly with GP practices through the Annual Charging Schedule check in process. NHSPS has not changed GPs’ terms of occupancy and would not do so outside of the collaborative Annual Charging Schedule.’
Dr Gupta also urged NHSPS to ‘reconsider’ its £1.3m counter-claim and said the BMA will continue to offer ‘whole-hearted support to the practices defending their position’.
He told Pulse: ‘NHSPS continues to pursue its own legal claims against the individual practices during a critical phase in the pandemic recovery, when practices are facing pressures like never before and when morale among the workforce is at rock bottom.’
The NHSPS spokesperson responded: ‘The legal process we are currently involved in with five GP practices was commenced not by us, but by the five practices, supported and funded by the British Medical Association. Indeed, NHS Property Services is the defendant in the proceedings.
‘In order for the court to provide final clarity on the basis of our charging and confirm what will be paid for the services we provide, we have responded to the proceedings and brought counter-claims against the five practices. We have stated publicly and privately to the BMA that we would like to find an alternative resolution outside of court proceedings.’
Meanwhile, NHSPS told HSJ there are still problems recovering the money it says it is owed and that additional funding might be required to solve this due to an ‘affordability issue’.
The property company is also trying to change perceptions of it away from a ‘cold and hard’ landlord, it added.
The BMA launched the legal claim in January last year over the ‘astronomical’ rises in charges faced by GPs and claimed a victory in September, when NHSPS ‘conceded’ that the policy could not vary GP practice contracts.
Pulse has long documented disputes over premises service charges since reporting in 2016 that several practices saw their fees hiked by up to 400%, while more recently a practice had its service charge triple to over £100,000 in four years.
Pulse also revealed that a GP practice had been asked by NHSPS to pay half a million pounds in service charges for ‘non-existent’ services and in February last year, a number of practices were threatened with bankruptcy due to unpaid rent.