BMA legal action against NHS Property Services over ‘unjustifiable’ fee hikes

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The BMA is launching legal action against NHS Property Services (NHSPS) over “unjustifiable” rises in service charges faced by GP practices.

Practices leasing their buildings from NHSPS have seen their charges rise over the last three years – some have seen them more than double – with no agreement, and sometimes being billed for services they are not receiving.

Examples brought to the BMA’s attention include a practice that was invoiced for fees for a lift that didn’t exist, while others said they face demands for charges they have already paid to the local authority. Many say they simply don’t have a clear breakdown of what the charges relate to.

Earlier this year the BMA wrote to NHSPS setting out why it believes NHSPS is acting unlawfully, but received no acceptable response. Therefore, as promised at their Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast in June, the BMA is now taking NHSPS to court.

The High Court claim will be made on behalf of five practices that have been subject to unjust increases in service charges and fees.

Addressing GPs from across the country at the Conference of England LMCs (Local Medical Committees) in London, BMA GP committee England Chair Dr Richard Vautrey, said: “It’s not acceptable that practices in NHS Property Services premises are left to pick up the cost of an unjustifiable hike in charges. As such, we will very shortly be lodging a legal test claim in court which, if successful, would provide a template for GP practices to defend unlawful claims for service charges by NHSPS.

“We must and we will stand up for GPs and take legal action when it’s necessary to defend our profession.”

At the conference at Friends House in London, representatives from around 120 English LMCs will debate motions on a wide range of topics affecting general practice in 2019, including workload, drug shortages, the GP contract and pensions.

In his opening speech to the conference, Dr Vautrey said:

On the five-year GP contract agreed in January and Primary Care Networks (PCNs)

“Within months, almost every practice was signed up and virtually every area had a PCN in place. It was a remarkable achievement and showed politicians, policy makers and the rest of the NHS what general practice can do. And so I want to publicly acknowledge and say thank you to over 1,250 clinicians who have taken on the role of clinical director, GPs and others stepping forward to lead and shape services across the country.”

On clinical director workload

“Earlier this year we launched a survey of clinical directors, and preliminary results have found that almost half classed their own workload as unmanageable, while almost two-thirds said the same about practice workload.

“This is why you as LMCs have a crucial role to play in providing them support and offering them protection.

“You have an important lesson to offer and a word to teach them. You need to help them to say ‘No’.”

On ongoing GP pressures

“None of us are under any illusions that the contract deal solves all our problems; far from it. It’s a start, but only that.  We still have a huge task to do to reduce unsafe workload burdens, to change the ridiculous pension arrangements that penalise hard-working GPs, to resolve problems with premises, to deal with the repeated failings of Capita, to attract and retain more GPs and above all to improve GP morale.”

On medicine shortages

“It’s a shame that government, despite its obsession with and paralysis caused by Brexit, has singularly failed to solve the daily problem of medicines availability. How can it happen so frequently that in one of the world’s leading nations it’s not possible to obtain commonly used HRT products for our patients?  How can it be possible that important antidepressants, anticonvulsants or hypertensive medication are not available?”

On investment and doctor wellbeing

“Workload pressure, compounded by the continued fall in GP numbers, is putting our patients at risk. It’s good that so far political parties have listened to us and not included counter-productive access targets in their election statements, as a strategy of just beating an already overwhelmed workforce harder will not improve the service we can deliver. Instead political parties must prioritise protecting patients and GPs’ sanity, and that means a commitment to three things: investment, investment, investment.”