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NHS Trust to raise cash through sale of surplus property

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The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is one of more than 100 NHS trusts planning to sell off surplus property amid an ongoing row over the sale of NHS assets.

Data from the NHS shows the trust is planning to dispose of one site which it says it no longer needs for local healthcare provision, despite it currently being used for patient care.

Unlike many other trusts, it has not given an estimated market value for the property.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, NHS trusts in England declared over 1,670 acres of land and property as surplus to requirements, which have an estimated combined market value of more than £220 million.

However, only 40% of sites have been published with an estimated price, suggesting a total value of more than half a billion pounds.

Properties still in clinical use that are to be put up for sale include mental health clinics, ambulance centres, nursing homes and hospitals.

Labour has accused the Government of overseeing a "secret fire sale" of NHS assets in order to plug gaps in funding.

But the Government says it is a necessary step towards solving the housing crisis.

Since 2011, the Department of Health and Social Care has been tasked with selling enough public land for more than 40,000 homes to be built, the vast majority of which will be on land owned by individual NHS trusts.

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust estimated that around 248 homes could be provided on the land it wants to sell , although the NHS does not keep records on how many homes are actually built after the point of sale.

In 2017, an independent, Government-commissioned report on the NHS estate recommended a number of new incentives to encourage trusts to speed up land sales.

These included increasing charges for those that don't sell surplus property and blocking them from accessing funds for capital spending.

Capital spending is money trusts spend on maintaining, improving or acquiring buildings and other assets.

For the last four years the DoH has transferred money from this budget into the pot for day-to-day spending.

The NHS trade association NHS Providers says a lack of access to this cash has put trusts under pressure to raise funds by alternative means, including through land sales.

They have called on the Government to ensure trusts have the resources they need to maintain and improve their facilities.

The British Medical Association added that the drive to sell could compromise patient care.

They said it was vital to safeguard the NHS from “perverse short-term financial incentives” that could see the NHS estate reduced to a level insufficient to meet future needs.

But Helen Buckingham, director of strategy and operations at independent health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said it was wrong to assume that trusts were only selling land as a result of funding shortfalls.

"It is easy to conflate troubling financial times in the NHS with trusts being forced to sell, but the idea of trusts selling off surplus land is not new," she said.

"There genuinely is a lot of surplus land in the NHS.

"We think trusts should think carefully about whether selling is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing to do.

"Sometimes you can exploit this land for long-term income, so sales are not the only thing that trusts should be thinking about.

"Land sales can benefit the bottom line but it’s a one-off and not a long-term solution."

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was committed to making taxpayers' money go further.

A spokesman added: “We have been clear that NHS land should only be sold when it is surplus and local NHS leaders decide it is no longer needed for future clinical use.

"Trusts which have chosen to dispose of surplus land are reinvesting the money on improving patient care in modern and upgraded facilities and creating new homes - including for NHS staff."