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NHS Property Services sends ‘threatening’ letters to GPs over unpaid fees

GPs have received ‘threatening’ letters from NHS Property Services over unpaid service charges.

The letters were sent to GPs through lawyers representing NHS Property Services (NHS PS), threatening legal action if the charges are not paid.

GP leaders have called the letters ‘completely unacceptable’, as some practices still face six-figure service charge bills.

NHS PS said they are continuing to work with GPs to find a solution to the fee issues, adding that ‘formal action is very much a last resort’.

In a message to LMCs, seen by Pulse, BMA chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘In some areas NHS PS have been issuing letters through their lawyers relating to unpaid charges.

‘The tone of these letters is quite threatening and completely unacceptable. GPC have asked NHS PS to recall the letters urgently and are awaiting a response.’ 

NHS PS told Pulse the letters are commercially sensitive and therefore could not be made public.

This comes after talks broke down between the BMA and NHS PS last year over sky-high service charge bills, with the BMA later submitting a freedom of information request to find out the total amount that was outstanding from GP tenants for service charges.

Dr Vautrey told Pulse that the responses to this FOI are still being processed by the GPC.

But Pulse previously reported that NHS PS claimed GPs owed them a cumulative £90m in historic service charges, with the BMA advising GPs not to pay the fees.

Dr Vautrey said the GPC wants ‘to see a fair and reasonable process for calculating service charges agreed, which has due regard to historic arrangements and does not result in practices having to fund the historic neglect of buildings’.

He added: ‘While GPC are pushing for a national solution, if practices are being threatened with legal action, GPC advise seeking independent legal advice on the particulars of their situation.’

An NHS Property Services spokesperson said: ‘We always work with our tenants and local partners to find solutions to payment issues so formal action is very much a last resort. We continue to offer support to practices throughout. 

‘We must recover rent and other legitimate costs for essential services like cleaning and repairs if the buildings are to continue to be provided for the NHS.

‘Last year, we invested £60m to upgrade and develop new facilities across England to support frontline patient care.’

Last month Pulse revealed that GPs in Northumberland could see ‘hundreds of thousands’ of pounds in unpaid service fees written off from their accounts after reaching an agreement with the CCG.

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.