NHS Property Services has sued five GP practices, supported by the BMA, for £1.3m worth of what it claims are unpaid premises fees.
The law suit is a counter-claim against the BMA’s ‘test case’ regarding NHS Property Services’ 2017/18 ‘national charging policy’.
The BMA launched the legal claim in January last year and claimed a victory in September, when NHS Property Services ‘conceded’ that the policy could not vary GP practice contracts.
The BMA said it is continually ‘troubled’ by the timing of the case, which Pulse flagged in the autumn.
NHSPS is suing the five practices for the service charges it claims they owe on a number of alternative legal grounds, the BMA said.
Following a procedural case management hearing for the counterclaim held last week, a trial has been scheduled for March next year, it added.
In an update to practices on Friday, GP Committee premises policy lead Dr Gaurav Gupta said: ‘Sadly, as a response to the action taken by these five practices to try to get clarity on the legal basis for NHSPS’ charges, NHSPS has chosen to issue its own claims against the practices.
‘The practices, supported by the BMA, are disputing these claims on the basis that the practices are not liable to pay the increased sums under the terms of their occupational agreements, and in any event the sums claimed do not reflect the level of services provided by NHSPS.’
He added: ‘The BMA is deeply troubled by NHSPS’ actions and considers that suing frontline doctors during a national health crisis is profoundly wrong, especially as NHSPS is a company owned by the Department of Health and Social Care.’
And if NHSPS is ‘unable to provide a comprehensive explanation and accurate details justifying increases in charges, then it should withdraw its demands and restore the status quo’, Dr Gupta said.
A spokesperson for NHSPS said that it hopes ‘that the matter can be settled without a further court hearing’ although the practices ‘have not withdrawn their cases which will go to full trial next year’.
They said: ‘The claims brought against NHSPS do not themselves deal with the overall issue of liability for the charges and so NHS Property Services has counterclaimed to clarify this issue.
‘As part of these proceedings, NHSPS is seeking to recuperate the debts owed by the claimants, which are still unpaid. This is part of our continued desire to ensure fairness and clarity across our portfolio in recovering money owed for providing essential services, ranging from electricity to deep cleaning and repairs.’
Meanwhile, Dr Gupta added that the High Court has ‘declined’ to ‘uphold’ the five practices’ claims and issue ‘declarations’ that NHSPS’s charging policy does not form part of their tenancies.
He said the December judgement was ‘principally on the basis that the issue was no longer in dispute, so declarations were not required’ – since NHSPS has admitted that it cannot ‘rely on the charging policy in isolation as a legal basis to increase charges’.
Dr Gupta said: ‘Although the BMA’s request for declarations was ultimately declined, the legal proceedings had served their purpose of confirming this crucial point for the five practices, and that particular matter was settled.’
The BMA recommends that practices facing ‘similar’ disputes with NHSPS should refer to this case, including before the courts, and ‘insist that NHSPS provide a full explanation of the legal and factual basis on which their charges have been increased’, he said.
He added that the BMA has prepared a template letter for practices in this situation.
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.