Southampton GP practice fears closure due to eight-year long rent dispute

  • WATCH: A Southampton GP surgery is worried it could be forced to close due to an eight-year long rent dispute, as James Dunham reports.

A GP surgery in Southampton has reached "crisis point" after an eight year dispute over rent could see it forced to close.

The partners at St Peter's Surgery in Woolston, fear that if the disagreement isn't resolved, it could mean more than 6,700 patients will be forced to find alternative healthcare.

The GP tenants have been paying rent to a landlord, on a figure that was based on their passing 2011 rent.

This money then gets refunded by the NHS, through the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care Board (ICB) - as is common practice.

The amount of rent the GP surgery pays is based on a valuation by the government's District Valuer (DV), who says the rent since 2016, should be lower.

This assessment is based on guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

At the centre of the dispute is a disabled toilet, which the DV doesn't believe should be included in the rent of the premises.

The DV says the value should be less than what it was back in 2011, which the landlord doesn't agree this is fair.

All parties involved insist they want to end the uncertainty, to prevent thousands of patients being left without a GP. Credit: ITV Meridian

Without an agreed long-term lease, a partner of the practice, Dr Ali Robins, is having to also pay for an empty space next door to the surgery, which cannot take on new tenants and can't be let out to a pharmacy.

Dr Robins said she is also worried the partners will be asked to repay eight years of reimbursements, if the ICB decides it has given them too much money back.

Dr Robins said: "We've spent just under £100,000 on legal fees, surveyors fees and the rent and the bills for next door.

"I have now run out of money. We can't keep going for much longer."

Dr Ali Robins is having to prop up an annex at the practice, due to the lack of long-term lease. Credit: ITV Meridian

The landlord of St Peter's Surgery is growing tired too and suggests court action might be necessary, if the NHS' national arbitrators can't help to find an agreement.

Much like the partners, the landlord also wants the lease to be renewed, but at a fair price.

Simon Harwood, director at ASA Group, is a healthcare surveyor and works alongside the landlord.

He said: "Even if the rent was going up by £1 a week and we're saying it should go up by £2 a week, there is a dispute.

"The key issue here is, if there is a dispute, parties can only spend so long trying to find a resolution amongst themselves."

All parties involved insist they want to end the uncertainty, to prevent thousands of patients being left without a GP.

The ICB says it won't ask partners at the GP practice to repay any over-imbursements.

Instead, its director of primary care, James Roach says the NHS body is committed to resolution.

Mr Roach said: "We have to ensure that we provide high quality services in a way that represents value for the taxpayer.

"The closure of St Peter's has never been discussed and is not on the table. We're working hard with the practice to ensure the services continue to be maintained."

St Peter's is holding an open forum on Monday 20th May to discuss the situation with patients and local councillors. Credit: ITV Meridian

A Valuation Office Agency spokesperson said: "District Valuer Services (DVS) advises the NHS on the level of current market rent (CMR) that should be reimbursed for GP premises.

"Our work is carried out in line with Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) guidance. We use all relevant evidence available at the valuation date.

"We are working very hard to deal with cases as quickly as possible. If we cannot reach agreement with a GP or their representative, they can appeal to NHS Resolution."

The DVS told ITV Meridian it is not party to the lease or any dispute between landlords and GP tenants.

St Peter's is due to hold an open forum between patients, the landlord and local councillors on Monday 20th May 7pm-9pm at St Patrick's Catholic Primary School.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.