‘Astronomical 627% rent rise and no hot water since June’ – East Devon health centre issues SOS to council watchdog

An East Devon health centre hit by ‘astronomical’ rent rises has been left without hot water since June and is being billed for services that don’t exist, a watchdog has been told. 

A report has also revealed concern that basic fire checks aren’t being carried out at Colyton Health Centre, in Grove Hill, and its bosses fear having to search for a new premises.

Seaton and Colyton Medical Practice has been fighting a long-running battle over rapidly rising costs since NHS Property Services took over as landlord three years ago.

Its rent has rocketed from £5,500 to £40,000 a year since 2016 – an increase of 627 per cent.

Devon county councillor Martin Shaw has highlighted the problems to the authority’s  Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee.

He has been backed by the practice in calling for public scrutiny of the issues.

The centre is a small, single-storey building, dating back to the 1960s, which the practice rents from NHS Property Services – also paying 63 per cent of the costs of running the building.

Under previous landlord North Devon NHS Trust, rents used to be around £5,000 a year – peaking at £5,500 in 2015/16.

However, since NHS Property Services took over ownership of the property in 2016, the rents have escalated.

They totalled  £15,422 in 2016/17, £34,657 in 2017/18, and are expected to be around the £40,000 mark for 2018/19.

Cllr Shaw said: “These are ludicrous figures for a building the size of a small bungalow, and the practice is contesting them.”

The charges for 2016/17 and 2017/18  remain in dispute as, when the practice attempted to negotiate with the landlord, it found that NHS Property Services was billing it inaccurately.

Maintenance of the property has also deteriorated and Cllr Shaw’s report says that there have many examples of when jobs have been badly managed, the problem has been exacerbated rather than fixed, or the jobs have just not been carried out at all.

He added: “I have brought this to the committee because the Seaton and Colyton Medical Practice has been unsuccessful over an extended period of time in negotiating a reasonable level of charges and adequate delivery of the maintenance service.

“They now feel it is appropriate that there should be public scrutiny of this situation.

“As the county councillor for Seaton and Colyton, representing not only the practice but also the thousands of patients whom it serves, I hope the committee will express its concern to NHS Property Services about this situation.

“I also believe that the committee should consider whether the way in which NHS Property Services has treated this practice raises issues about how the company manages properties across Devon.”

The report claims that NHS Property Services has been inaccurately billing the practice. The charges that Cllr Shaw outlines are:

  • Being charged more than £2,500 per year for grounds maintenance including watering and maintaining of containers, even though the practice doesn’t have any;
  • Charged for four hours of grass cutting every fortnight, when the practice had a wildflower meadow in front of the surgery by July and since then contractors have been twice, each time for around 40 minutes;
  • Fortnightly litter pick-ups, although no-one has seen anyone picking up litter;
  • Charged for the fitting of bed alarms for patients, but there are no beds in the Colyton Health Centre.

Cllr Shaw added: “On top of this, the services the practice receives have deteriorated.

“NHS Property Services contract out the maintenance of the property…and there have been many examples of when jobs have been badly managed, the problem has been exacerbated rather than fixed, or the jobs have just not been carried out at all.”

Kirstine House, practice manager, added: “When preparing for a recent CQC inspection, we had to stick the floor in the nurses’ room down with duct tape as our request to replace it made five months previously had not been actioned.

“We also discovered that basic fire checks had not been carried out.

“I have recently been approached by contractors wishing to carry out electrical work requested in 2016 but never actioned, the grass went uncut for most of the summer and in June the boiler was condemned so we have had no hot water or means to heat the building since then.”

The boiler was finally replaced, but this only uncovered more problems and the centre remains without hot water after more than three months, the report states.

Mrs House added: “We have spent an enormous amount of time as a practice attempting to achieve an acceptable solution which is fair and reflects the work carried out on the building, but so far to no avail.

“The maintenance is poor and impacts on staff and patients, while the astronomical rise in maintenance charges means we have to seriously consider the financial viability of continuing to operate from this site, something we definitely wish to do.

“We appreciate your time in allowing us to bring this matter to your attention, and we would welcome the support of the committee in our attempt to resolve these issues in a satisfactory manner, which will allow us to focus on delivering healthcare to the people of Colyton and the surrounding area.”

The committee will consider the report brought forward by Cllr Shaw when it meets on Monday.

NHS Property Services is a company set up by the Government to manage the NHS estate, with a mandate to charge commercial rents and, where appropriate, sell ‘surplus’ property.

The health centre was handed over to the company in 2016, along with community hospitals.

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