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‘My warning to GPs: beware signing up for “safe as houses” building leases’

I started the practice in 1993 at the request of the Family Health Services Authority – my partnership was splitting and Bicester was short of premises and GPs.

We opened a new practice in a portacabin, over the years got a second portacabin and then finally a new build which was commissioned by the FHSA. It was designed big because Bicester was growing – I was a single hander but took on partners very quickly.

We’ve grown to about 4,500 patients – three doctors, me full time and two part-timers.

When they withdrew MPIG three years ago and told us we would be on a downward spiral of income, they identified 98 practices in the country that would be hit especially badly by the withdrawal of MPIG and we were on that list along with the Langford practice in the south-east of Bicester – both practices that were new and edge of town. 

They are also closing but have arranged a merge with a neighbouring practice, but we weren’t able to do this. This was flagged up with NHSE two years ago but they did nothing. We had meetings with our MPs Tony Baldry, and this year Victoria Prentice. No one was able to see the bigger picture.

Our accountant told us as long as we don’t mind taking less profit you can keep going for the moment. But it has come to a head because my partner who is now 60 wants to retire and I’m 60 and want to go part time but we simply cannot attract any other doctor to come to this practice with financial unviability.

We were forced, really, to submit our resignation, thinking that might trigger a last ditch attempt to save us – but it hasn’t worked.

The nasty underside of this is that we are left with a building and a lease that runs for another eight years and obviously the landowners – the freeholders – will want their lease paid.

We built it in 2000 with the NHS provision in mind, growing Bicester, safe as houses, 25-year lease, my name on the lease – if they call in the lease I’ll be facing a bill of £800,000.

My warning to GPs is, do not sign any lease if the NHS fail to back or underwrite you.

All my staff have had to look for new jobs, of course we have had to make them redundant, but a lot have already found jobs and they are leaving now so we are now understaffed.

We’ve had patients at the reception desk crying. We have parking here, it’s a purpose built surgery that is only 16 years old and it’s going to be made redundant.

The landlords are saying, “what should we do with this building, turn it into a fast food outlet or something?” It should be retained in the health system.

Dr Andrew Gibson is a GP partner in Bicester, Oxfordshire