By Gareth Iacobucci
Legal disputes between GPs and their trusts over practice premises have more than doubled over the past year, according to official figures.
The NHS Litigation Authority organisation has reported a surge in the number of disputes relating to the current market rent of GP premises, with experts suggesting that the squeeze in NHS finances may be to blame for the growing number of clashes between GPs and their trusts.
The NHSLA’s 2010 annual report said the increase in cases relating to GP premises had coincided with concerns that PCTs were not following local disputes procedures correctly, which surveyors said may explain the growing number cases being referred to the Authority.
The Authority said it dealt with 76 dispute resolutions in total during 2009/10, also covering areas such as remuneration, contract terminations and clawback of QOF monies.
The report said: ‘Those disputes arising under the GMS and PMS Regulations once again became the main source of applications for dispute resolution, with current market rent cases being the main area of dispute as is the case most years.
‘However this year this particular area of work doubled with twice as many incoming and determined applications relating to the current market rent of GP Premises.’
The NHSLA said it had launched a best practice protocol for PCTs in February this year in response to the large number of PCTs not following local dispute procedures correctly, which was causing delays in processing cases.
It said these issues were exacerbated after it was forced to review its procedures for seeking expert advice upon current market rent valuations, which led to ‘a significant delay in dealing with these disputes’.
GP premises experts suggested the surge in cases may be related to the economic climate, in which PCTs were clamouring to make savings.
Chris Johnson, director at GP Surveyors, said: ‘The biggest area we can pin it down to is where you’ve got PCTs that aren’t following protocol, they’re the ones where you’ve had more disputes.
‘We could speculate that many PCTs may not be following protocol as a way to minimise expenditure. It is certainly a possibility.’
Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator with responsibility for premises, said the increase could be attributable to a range of factors, including PCT cost-cutting, a shortage of expertise in trusts, and GPs being more aware of the value of their property – and therefore more willing to challenge their trusts.
He said: ‘The increasing trigger seems to be the PCTs trying to reduce something. But GPs are beginning to realise the value of their premises, particularly at a time when contract values are being messed around.’
Dr Peter Holden In depth
Want to find out more about managing your premises?
Pulse’s Surgery Premises seminar will be held on 30 September at the Hilton London Olympia Hotel in London.
Our speakers will put your premises dilemmas and opportunities into the context of the new Government’s policies for general practice and give you the latest information around:
– Are your premises fit for purpose, today and tomorrow?
– Weighing up your options: build, extend or refurbish
– What will it all cost?
– NHS funding streams post-White Paper
– Taking the new opportunities into account in your premises plans
– Getting the timing right
For more information or to book your place today, please click here.