The BMA’s GP committee has written to Well Pharmacy expressing concerns that its pharmacies are opting out of making full rent payments to their GP practice landlords ‘without agreement’.
The letter said that some of Well’s pharmacy operators have written to their landlords advising that they will pay only 75% of the usual rent ‘for the foreseeable future’, citing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a ‘subsequent reduction in footfall’.
The BMA said that this approach was ‘not helpful’ and would ‘further compound’ the financial challenges general practice has also faced as a result of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for Well told The Pharmacist that they would not comment on the letter because negotiations with its landlords were ‘confidential’.
They added: ‘As a business we work in partnership with our landlords around rent and payment schedules. We are committed to providing a vital and important service to the local communities supporting their health and wellbeing for the long term. The success of Well and the landlords is inter-dependent, and we hope this spirit of cooperation and understanding during these difficult times will help us all be successful in the future.’
In June, the Government published a voluntary code of practice for commercial property relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is designed to support landlords and tenants to reach a temporary agreement on rent payments, where businesses are not in the same position as they were previously ‘in terms of the ability to pay rent’.
The code sets out a number of principles, including that tenants and landlords should ‘act reasonably, swiftly, transparently and in good faith’ when negotiating agreements.
The BMA’s letter said that it is aware of the code, but ‘the fact is that it remains voluntary and does not give pharmacies the authority to adjust their rent unilaterally, without agreement and without being transparent’.
It added: ‘Both parties must work together for the benefit of aiding swifter economic recovery, and the entire process must centre around that collaboration with both parties acting reasonably and responsibly in reaching any agreement’.
The letter also said that discussions had been carried out with Well Pharmacy’s legal representatives, but the BMA was ‘disappointed’ that Well Pharmacy had not responded to its concerns following this, despite ‘repeated attempts’ to contact the company.
A BMA spokesperson said: ‘Covid-19 has been difficult for every part of the health and care sector, including pharmacies which have reported not seeing their usual numbers of patients and customers.
‘While we understand this has been difficult and why some might want to request reduction in rent at this time, it’s important that everyone works together to ensure any changes don’t negatively impact other community services.’
They added: ‘General practice has faced similar financial challenges throughout this pandemic, and charging ahead with adjusting rent unilaterally could compound these difficulties for general practice teams and as a result, impact patients.
‘We hope that our attempts to reach out to Well Pharmacy on this issue will open a dialogue about how to move forward for the sake of everyone using and working in these services without resulting in further funding cuts to GP practices.’