NHS Property Services (NHSPS) is to increase service charges for GP practices in England to meet Covid-related costs, the BMA has said.
The BMA’s GP Committee last week wrote to NHSPS calling for an ‘immediate reversal’ of the decision, warning it would ‘increase financial pressure’ on the profession as it prepare for a second wave of Covid-19.
But a spokesperson for NHSPS told Pulse it could not reverse the decision, which is due to NHS England ceasing to fund the costs.
Practices were last month given a boost after NHSPS ‘conceded’ that its national charging policy – which attempted to apply uniform high service charges – was not contractual.
In the latest GPC update for LMCs, the BMA said NHSPS would begin charging for ‘Covid-19 related requests’.
It said: ‘In a communication this week, NHSPS announced its intention to increase service charges and facilities service charges for practices across England to meet costs associated with Covid-19.’
The GPC called the decision ‘deeply disappointing’ and said it would be ‘extremely unwelcome news’ to practices in NHSPS premises.
GPC premises policy lead Dr Gaurav Gupta last week wrote to acting NHSPS chief executive Martin Steele seeking an ‘immediate reversal’ to the decision, added the GPC bulletin.
The letter set out the ‘extraordinary challenges’ facing practices and the ‘severely misjudged nature and timing of this decision’, it said.
It added that the charges hike will ‘increase financial pressure on an already beleaguered profession as it prepares for a second wave of the pandemic’.
Dr Gaurav Gupta said: ‘Surgeries and staff have been blindsided by this and in some instances, wondering how to make ends meet without depriving patients of the high-quality care they need.
‘This pandemic has been hard for everyone, but the health service is central to helping win the fight against this dreadful virus and it must be supported.’
The BMA’s GPC bulletin added: ‘Practices have received increasingly unreasonable and inflated service charge demands from NHSPS for several years.
‘These demands are often made without reference to contractual arrangements (or lack thereof), and practices are rarely even given an itemised list of charges.’
The BMA advises that practices should only make payments if they ‘agree with the legal basis on which they are due’, it added.
A spokesperson for NHSPS said it had received a contribution towards ‘specific incremental’ Covid-related costs from NHS England during the first six months of the pandemic, however this was stopped from October.
They told Pulse NHSPS must now ‘recover’ continuing or newly-requested costs ‘directly from users of those services, principally NHS colleague occupiers and customers’.
They added that NHSPS is ‘not empowered to reverse or alter the funding flow decision’ but that no ‘retrospective’ charges would be levied against practices.
Meanwhile, there are also ‘non-specific incremental’ Covid-related costs such as ‘additional and more costly PPE, higher than normal absence levels, overtime costs in covering increased absence levels and increases in cleaning consumables’, NHSPS said.
The resulting percentage uplift communicated to practices for the next six months is ‘for guidance purposes only at present’ and actual costs will be reviewed with customers ‘at the appropriate time’, it added.
The spokesperson said: ‘NHSPS remains committed to continuing to support our NHS colleagues and customers during this difficult time as we move into the next stage of the pandemic and we will continue to do everything we can to minimise the financial impact of these additional needs.
‘We are in open dialogue with the BMA and have helped clarify some areas of concern they raised with us and we remain committed to working together on this.’
Last month, a Government review found that there would be ‘little benefit’ to overhauling the organisation, after a Public Accounts Committee report found that a lack of powers and inherited long-standing issues had set NHSPS up to fail.
Pulse has long-documented the ongoing disputes between practices and NHSPS, most recently when a number of practices were threatened with bankruptcy due to unpaid rent in February.
And in June, Pulse revealed that a hike in service charges had left GP practices located in Government-owned buildings ‘under threat of closure’.