The practice of GPs charging care homes retainer fees to guarantee NHS care for their residents is “unacceptable” and must end, care provider leaders have warned.
Research by Care England, the biggest umbrella body for English providers, found that 30 of 34 care homes surveyed were charged ‘retainer’ fees, in one case £2,400 a month, to guarantee GP care for their residents. One fee-paying provider said a GP practice insisted that patients use the pharmacy run by their surgery as a condition of receiving care.
GP practices that charge retainer fees often point to the fact that they are providing an ‘enhanced service’ beyond the ‘core’ duties they are contracted to deliver under the national GP contract. But providers that ran multiple homes told Care England that the service was often “equally good” from GPs that didn’t charge retainers.
Martin Green, the umbrella body’s chief executive, said: “Charging care home residents for healthcare is ageist and totally unacceptable, and we call upon the government, clinical commissioning groups and the regulator [Care Quality Commission] to put a stop to it immediately.”
Green also called on the government to end “any future ambiguity” over what constitutes an “enhanced” service that GPs can charge for and services that should be free at the point of use by making this clear in the 2015/16 GP contract.
The issue of ‘retainer fees’ has attracted controversy in recent years. A 2011 report by the British Geriatrics Society highlighted concerns that retainer payments were potentially unlawful and could be seen as GPs being paid twice for providing services to care home residents.
Care England was formed by a merger of the National Care Association and English Community Care Association.