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GP practice fears for future after service charges hiked up to £60,000 a year

An East London GP practice says it has been forced to downsize and is worrying about its long-term future after its landlord pushed building service charges up to more than £60,000 a year.

The Island Health Centre was forced to leave one of the two floors it occupied of its purpose-built premises on the Isle of Dogs after the landlords – the Island Health Trust – hiked costs. 

GP partners at the practice told Pulse that they will ’not be in a position to provide the extra services that will be expected of us’ and said GPs and patients are worried about what will happen to the practice in the future.

The trust said that the service charge for the GPs covered the costs incurred for maintenance and utilities, and that the practice was not forced 

The Trust’s decision to hike service charges comes despite it holding cash reserves of £1.25 million and, as a registered charity, naming as its aims the promotion of primary healthcare in the borough, according to a letter to the practice from Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs.

Minutes of a Tower Hamlets council meeting on January 18 show that the Trust has plans to demolish the health centre to exploit the valuable site and is seeking the practice’s consent to vacate the site and move to temporary premises.

Island Health Centre lead partner Dr Jo Richardson said in a statement: ‘We hope that the Trust will be firmly focused on local healthcare in the future and that they will be in a position to spend funds they have accumulated acting in a supportive way to the practice.’

She later told Pulse: ’The issue is not so much what we have lost now re services to our patients but what we will not be able to provide in the future because of lack of space for health care provision and education /training . Also the worry to patients and doctors about no local control going forward and what might happen to the practice.’

In the letter to the practice, Mr Biggs said the partners had his ‘full support’.

He added that council officers were seeking ‘urgent explanations’ from Trustees about allegations made against the trust and that the matter had been referred to the Charities Commission.

Mr Biggs said: ‘This is clearly a very serious matter and local people deserve an explanation. My overriding priority is to ensure that there is a secure future for the health centre and in particular the GP practice.’

The health centre was built by the Trust after a campaign by local residents with £700,000 of grants from Tower Hamlets council and the London Docklands Development Corporation as well as a £700,000 loan to the Trust. The loan has been paid off with NHS rental payments of £260,000 a year.

Families registered with the centre sent a petition to the Town Hall for backing to save the service they fear faces closure.

Tower Hamlets LMC lead Dr Jackie Appleby said: ‘This is a very worrying situation for the practice. Island Health, like many GP practices in England, are striving to continue to provide excellent services to patients in a climate of a workforce crisis and unprecedented cuts to NHS funding. They simply cannot absorb extra costs. If they are forced by the Trust to do so they are at real risk of financial instability which will inevitably translate into reduced services to patients.

’The Trust is a charity and has ample reserves, it should not be putting the health services of the residents of the Isle of Dogs in jeopardy.’

An Island Health Trust spokesperson told Pulse: ’The service charge for this year is currently just over £92,000 for the whole building. This is based on actual costs incurred for utilities, maintenance and associated plant. The GPs are not the only tenants and the cost is shared between them – by the end of the financial year we anticipate that the service charge payable by the GP surgery will be no more than c.£60,000. 

’The surgery was not forced to vacate the first floor, they used to occupy c75% of the building and they now occupy just over 43% following the movement of medical records off site and the conversion of a large conference room that was rarely used.

’IHT has also given the GPs a grant towards some of their service charge and we have recently paid for a deep clean of the area they rent to assist with costs. In the last two years IHT has brought down the costs to all the tenants of the building wherever possible, having had two-to-three years of higher costs during 2013-15 related to significant increases in both cleaning and lift maintenance costs. From the end of December 2016 IHT is carrying the full cost of lift maintenance to mitigate the impact on tenants of this type of cost occurring again.’

Please note: this story was amended to reflect that the service charges for the GPs themselves was £60,000. The £100,000 quoted originally referred to the whole building, which they shared with other organisations.