An investigation by the Bureau and the Daily Telegraph has found that rent paid to GPs by the NHS has increased 70% to £630m a year, up from £370m in 2004.
The revelation is set to lead to renewed public concern over the taxpayer-funded largesse enjoyed by some GPs.
But the dramatic rise in rents paid for GP surgeries is being driven by private companies that challenge the rates set by the NHS on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.
The companies, which negotiate with the NHS on behalf of GPs, boast that they can make millions on behalf of their clients.
Doctors said last night that the use of private surveryors to increase rent values was ‘despicable’.
The rent paid by GPs’ surgeries is set every three years by independent district valuers on behalf of the NHS, but private companies operating on behalf of the surgeries can appeal.
GP Surveyors, one of the companies that ‘challenge’ the NHS negotiation reports on its website that it carried out 500 ‘rent reviews’ last year, gaining an extra £4.5million for its clients.
The company, which has a base in London’s Harley Street, describes a range of tactics used to raise NHS rents on its website. One doctor who used the service described himself as ‘incredulous’ at the uplift achieved by the company.
Dr John Leonard, a GP in Falkirk, Scotland, last night labelled doctors who ‘milk’ the system by hiring private surveyors to drive up their rent as ‘greedy’.
He said: ‘It is incredible. I am staggered. We are being asked to save money and change people onto cheaper drugs that are less effective, and these people are after more cash for themselves.
‘The system is already very generous. There is no need to be greedy. I’m not one to bash my colleagues, but some of this sounds despicable. We are already onto a good thing – there is no need to be excessive.’
Another leading doctor last night admitted that many of his colleagues deliberately opt for properties that can be easily converted to make them easier to sell on at a profit.
Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of a doctor’s group in the south of England, said:
‘The government has introduced a lot of uncertainty into being a GP in the past decade, and the result is that doctors are future-proofing their investments.
‘They are designing new surgeries that can be easily converted into flats, say, or holiday homes if they need to be sold suddenly.’
Surgeries are converted into holiday homes
Chris Johnson, a director at GP Surveyors, declined to comment on the fees paid by GPs’ surgeries for the rent reviews, saying this was ‘commercially sensitive’.
‘Our role is to arrive at a fair assessment,’ said Mr Johnson.
James Wharton, a Conservative MP on the Commons Public Accounts committee said: ‘This is money that is coming directly out of a budget that should be providing quality healthcare for people at a time when cash is tight and this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. GPs get high salaries anyway and to add extra profits to that by effectively fiddling the system is wrong.
Additional reporting by Sophie Clayton-Payne from the Bureau and Holly Watt from the Daily Telegraph
Heidi Blake is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph