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‘Little benefit’ to overhauling NHS Property Services, finds DHSC review

NHSPS GP premises agreements

There would be little overall benefit in fundamentally changing the role of NHS Property Services or divesting it wholesale of any functions right now, the Department of Health and Social Care has concluded.

This is the result of its review in response to a Public Accounts Committee report which found that a lack of powers and inherited long-standing issues had set NHSPS up to fail.

The PAC called for DHSC to set a clear timetable NHSPS to agree tenancy details and clear debt recovery targets after a series of ongoing disputes.

The BMA is currently pursuing legal action against NHSPS over the ‘astronomical’ rises in charges faced by GPs in recent years. 

It said the review’s recommendation suggesting there should be central funding for management fees and maintenance costs ‘could possibly help practices in resolving some of the ongoing disputes’.

Publishing the results of its review, the DHSC said ‘there was little evidence that there would be overall benefit to the NHS of NHSPS divesting itself wholesale of any functions in the short to medium term’.

Instead it should focus on working with tenants and NHS commissioning organisations to agree what its role should be.

The DHSC acknowledged that introducing ‘greater transparency in the charging of rents and services’ had been the cause of disputes between NHSPS and its tenants.

But it indicated this approach would continue, adding ‘this is the widely accepted model for the large number of occupancies of “third-party” landlords’ properties by the NHS’.

Operational improvements were being put in place but NHSPS would need continued support from NHS England to ensure tenants continue to pay their rents, the review concluded.

And better engagement with local NHS commissioners is needed to support resolution of funding disputes, especially those that have arisen over several years.

The ongoing programme of work between DHSC, NHS England and NHSPS to agree tenancy details, ease funding flow and collect unpaid debts should continue into 2020/21 financial year and the year beyond if necessary, it recommended.

NHSPS’ ‘current sharp focus’ on improving its data, clarity and transparency of charging must continue, the DHSC said.

But NHSPS must be supported to ‘reset’ its relationship with local NHS organisations in part by rebalancing its priorities towards being a delivery partner for the NHS, without presuming it will be an automatic owner of properties or supplier of services, the review recommended.

Commenting on the review, BMA GP Committee premises policy lead Dr Gaurav Gupta said: ‘Many GP practices have suffered a lot of stress and disruption due to ongoing disputes with NHSPS relating to the unreasonably high and unjustified service charge demands.

‘This is an interesting review, especially the recommendation that suggests central funding of management fees and maintenance costs, which could possibly help practices in resolving some of the ongoing disputes.’

Earlier this month, the BMA said it was pushing ahead with applying to the High Court to stop service charge hikes in five test case practices, following the NHSPS’s ‘concession’ that its national charging policy is not contractual.

At the time, the NHSPS said that the BMA ‘misrepresented’ its position, a claim the BMA disputed.