The BMA is aware that many GP practices in NHS PS (NHS Property Services) are facing serious challenges as a result of significant increases in service charges. Many practices are in long-running disputes.
These increases are often levied by NHS PS without reference to the contractual arrangements (or lack thereof) that are in place.
Practices are rarely given an itemised list of the charges. When they are, there are often errors or incorrect charges included. These issues are often when NHS PS are negotiating a lease with a practice.
The BMA disagrees with NHS PS that it is entitled to recover service charges from GP practices on a full cost recovery basis and/or relying on its 'consolidated charging policy', regardless of the agreed terms of the tenancy.
Practices should only make payments if they agree with the legal basis upon which NHS PS have claimed the charges are due and agree they are accurate.
The 'consolidated charging policy' which NHS PS relies on does not necessarily form part of every lease and tenancy. In many cases it will not have any legal status without prior agreement by the GP practice.
The BMA GPs committee will stand with you where NHS PS enforces these charges, despite there being no legal basis to do so.
We have been working to reach an agreement nationally. We are prepared to consider all options to reach a fair process for calculating service charges. The process should take into account previous arrangements and not result in practices having to fund the historic neglect of buildings owned by NHS PS.
We are supporting five GP practices who have started court proceedings against NHS PS to get clarification of the basis on which NHS PS calculates service charges.
- It is vital that you do not sign any lease or Heads of Terms (including those based on the national template GP lease) until you fully understand and are comfortable with your liabilities.
- Appropriate due diligence as to your potential liabilities should be carried out.
- Care should be taken on the issue of service charges so as to avoid a situation where there is an exposure to uncapped and unreasonable costs.
Service level agreements and charters
Some practices have been invited by NHS PS to sign facilities management service level agreements (SLAs) and/or similar documents badged as 'charters'.
NHSPS have stated that these documents are designed to set out, among other related matters, the services that will be received by the practice. They are not intended to be legally binding agreements, but caution needs to be exercised because once agreed these documents could affect the terms of your tenancy.
While clarity by NHS PS is welcomed, information on services and facilities management should not be considered or agreed in isolation.
Any agreement regarding service provision must only be signed with due consideration of the existing tenancy arrangements, whether written leases or implied tenancy, and only in conjunction with the costs associated with such services.
Care should be taken to avoid the issue of agreeing services independently from the cost of those services and without any regard to the existing terms of the tenancy.
Some transitional arrangements are being offered to either:
- cover increased costs that NHS PS charge
- act as an incentive for practices to sign a new lease.
Agreements for transitional funding should only be entered into where you are entirely satisfied that when the transitional period ends, you will not be left having to meet increased costs.
In the BMA’s view, transitional arrangements are not the solution.