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GPs let off from paying ‘hundreds of thousands’ in premises fees

Exclusive GPs in Northumberland could see unpaid service fees worth ‘hundreds of thousands’ of pounds written off from their accounts.

The deal was negotiated at a meeting between NHS officials and local GP leaders, after practices in the area were being ‘financially crucified’ by service fee increases.

LMC leaders said the meeting had ‘gone a long way to improving communications’, but added that they are still ‘far from sorting things out entirely’.

In 2016, practices in Northumberland were hit with premises fee increases of up to £60,000 – a 500% rise for some practices.

This was one of several areas in England where NHS Property Services said GPs have accrued outstanding premises fees, amounting to a national total of £90m.

However, a meeting between the LMC, NHS Property Services, NHS England and NHS Northumberland CCG resulted in some of these fees potentially being written off for Northumberland GPs.

Dr Jane Lothian, Northumberland LMC medical secretary, told Pulse: ‘They’ve labelled the difference between the money that was charged by NHS PS between 2015/16 and 2017/18 and what the practices were paying as a historic subsidy, on the basis that it must have been in the system somewhere.’

She said NHS England has ‘transferred that money to the CCG and as far as I know at the moment the CCG are planning to portion that between the various practices and therefore allow the practices, if they wish to, be in a position to write that off from their accounts’.

She added that the final amount to be written off was ‘likely hundreds of thousands of pounds’. 

A spokesperson for NHS Northumberland CCG said: ‘Whilst there is no requirement or obligation on the CCG to directly reimburse general practice service charges, we acknowledge that some practices historically had agreements in place to cap service charges at a particular level and the CCG has given a commitment to honour those agreements.

‘The CCG will work with those practices on a case by case basis to confirm the appropriate level of historic subsidy to be reimbursed.’

Dr Lothian added: ‘There seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding about who was meant to be talking to whom.

‘So we’ve moved things along, we’re far from sorting things out entirely but we have put some of the practices in a position where they can possibly look at these negotiations if they wish to.’

An NHS England North spokesperson said: ‘It is for individual CCGs, where they hold delegated budgets, to determine how best to use delegated primary care resources to secure sustainable primary care services.’

NHS Property Services declined to comment.

Premises dispute

This is the latest in the long-running dispute between GPs and NHS Property Services.

A large number of practices transferred over from informal, historic agreements with service providers to the new Department of Health operated NHS Property Services management company in April 2013.

LMC leaders warned at the time that the transfer could include ‘rocketing’ service charges in the future.

The BMA was in talks with NHS PS over sky-high service charges, but they completely broke down last year, while practices continue to be presented with six-figure bills.

The BMA, which has not ruled out a legal challenge over premises fee hikes, previously told Pulse the amount of unpaid fees showed ‘the resolve of practices’ and urged NHS PS to work with GP representatives to ‘resolve this issue’.

However, the Department of Health has said GPs will have to pay up half of the outstanding premises fees from their own pockets.