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UK NHS found to be paying millions of pounds for empty buildings

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A Sky News investigation has discovered the Department of Health is wasting millions of pounds a year renting buildings it does not use.

One property expert estimates that the total wasted floor space across the NHS is equivalent to that of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s combined.

One health centre, in Christchurch has been empty for 22 years – but taxpayers are still covering the rent.

It was originally acquired by the local health authority in 1972 on a lease from J Sainsbury.

Since then, ownership of the property has changed hands several times as the premises were acquired and sold by investors.

In 1989, the health centre was closed and the building vacated.

But the lease remained in place and rent, rates and service charges totalling £450,000 were still paid.

There are 50 years remaining on the tenancy, increasing the Department of Health’s liability by a further £2m.

Despite attempts to surrender the contract, they have been unable to do so.

The department is also paying rent on a further 24 empty properties around the UK.

The total cost to the taxpayer for these is approximately £2.8m per year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “This is an unacceptable use of public money and this Government is determined to sort it out.

“We are in discussions with the landlord of Christchurch Health Centre to negotiate the surrender of the lease.

“Guidance has been issued to the NHS to guard against similar bad practice occurring in future leasehold deals.”

According to NHS property experts Hempsons, a quarter of NHS properties are unfit for purpose and 7% of the entire estate is empty or underused.

Nathan East, from Hempsons, told Sky News: “The total unused floor space is equivalent to the entire floor space of Sainsbury and Waitrose combined.

“When building hospitals, one used to look at clinical need rather than space and efficiency. Now cost efficiency is more of an issue.

“But you can’t deal with this easily during a recession. If you were to flood the market with empty properties you would simply devalue them, so it has to be done over time; there’s no quick fix.”

The NHS is faced with further estate-management challenges as it decides what to do with premises currently used by soon-to-be abolished Primary Care Trusts.

The Health and Social Care Bill, a crucial part of the Government’s vision to modernise the NHS, is expected to tackle how PCT premises could be transferred and to whom.
Source: Sky News

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