Half-empty clinics draining cash out of NHS budgets, study reveals

GPs' leaders have told of their frustration over the scale of payments.
GPs' leaders have told of their frustration over the scale of payments.
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DOZENS of modern clinics are lying part-empty across the region diverting significant sums from patient care to cover their upkeep, analysis by The Yorkshire Post reveals today.

Under complicated arrangements in the wake of the Government’s landmark NHS reforms, GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) pick up the costs of spare capacity in health centres, clinics and offices which had previously belonged to former primary care trusts. They also pay the shortfall for tenants whose rent is insufficient to cover the costs of operating buildings.

Our members have identified some serious concerns.

NHS Clinical Commissioners director Julie Wood.

Overall they have spent at least £17 million in Yorkshire since April 2013. The biggest bill has been to cover the cost of “void space” in clinics built in the last decade under the Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) initiative to provide modern frontline services by GPs and other NHS, social care and council services staff, often in deprived areas.

Figures show NHS Doncaster CCG has paid out more than £6m in the last two years, mainly on the cost of 10 LIFT centres which have been left with spare capacity.

In Sheffield, four LIFT buildings are among those which have incurred costs which amounted to £564,000 in 2013-14, with charges expected to hit £1m in 2014-15.

In Barnsley, £589,000 was paid out in 2014-15, largely on shortfalls in income from tenants, chiefly at four LIFT buildings. The highest payment was £181,000 at the Roundhouse Medical Centre in Athersley, which opened only in 2011. A further £682,000 was paid the previous year across the district.

Detailed figures in Hull are not available for 2013-14 but charges for void space mainly at health centres ran to £650,000 in 2014-15, which officials said were a “significant reduction” on those the previous year. No agreement had been reached over an extensive portfolio of LIFT properties in the city.

In Leeds, where there are also a range of LIFT buildings, three CCGs paid out £1.4m in 2013-14 for void space but were unable to explain what that covered. They say following negotiations they paid nothing in the last 12 months.

In some areas, CCGs say they have incurred no costs including Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven, Harrogate, the East Riding and Rotherham.

Others - among them Scarborough and Ryedale and Wakefield - are involved in disputes over bills.

Under the arrangements, LIFT buildings are operated by the publicly-owned firm Community Health Partnerships which is responsible for 300 properties in total.

A spokeswoman said it was working with CCGs to use buildings more effectively and discuss “how the estate can be better used to implement long-term change, improve patient services and drive down costs”.

Money paid by CCGs went directly to meeting the operating costs of buildings, remaining within the NHS.

NHS Hull CCG said: “We expect that the costs for 2014-15 to represent a significant reduction on the 2013-14 total for void and subsidy due to a larger proportion of charges being levied directly to service providers.

“The CCG is continuing to work with both property companies on the improvement of information available and the efficient use of space, with property utilisation playing a significant part in the commissioning of services.

“With regards to the outturn for 2015-16, the CCG is budgeting for similar levels to 2014-15 for void and subsidy costs, however as the property companies continue to improve their information systems it is likely that a larger proportion of charges will be levied directly to providers, reducing the level of subsidy costs.”

The scale of NHS property across the country is vast, with most on sprawling hospital sites.

Around 10 per cent, worth £3 billion, is in the community and is held by NHS Property Services, a company set up by the Department of Health which took over management of buildings in the wake of the Government’s controversial 2013 NHS reforms.

More than 350 NHS sites have already been identified for potential sale to raise an estimated £7.5bn to kickstart developments which will be at the heart of key moves to shift care out of expensive hospitals closer to patients’ homes.

A disposal programme raised £58 million for taxpayers in the 21 months to December - although only eight properties worth less than £2m have been sold in Yorkshire, the most valuable being the £1m site of Bingley Hospital.

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Exclusive: NHS money ‘wasted’ on empty properties