For many of us working in primary care estates it may not seem that long ago that the LIFT programme commenced. So it will come as something of a surprise to hear the interim CEO of Community Health Partnerships, Wendy Farrington-Chadd warning about the end of the 25-year period for the initial phase of LIFT projects.
In fact, the initial terms are set to expire at the end of this decade but Farrington-Chadd is right to raise this issue now given the often slow pace of movement within primary care estates.
Although CHP hold the headleases of LIFT buildings, the freeholds are owned in partnership with various private companies. Farrington-Chadd speaking to the Health Service Journal said that this is unlikely to continue beyond the end of the term. This means an alternative ownership model needs to be found before then.
CHP may have a role to play in this. It is also possible that Integrated Care Boards, with the power to hold property may also step in once they are created as part of the statutory Integrated Care Systems anticipated in April 2022.
This does create uncertainty for GP practices who hold leases in LIFT buildings - many of which do not have security of tenure.
The aim of the 25-year model for LIFT was to enable flexibility so that at the end of the term, if the buildings were no longer fit for purpose, then the NHS entities involved had the flexibility to move on. However, given the fact that much of the primary care estate is still lagging behind the quality provided by LIFT buildings, it seems likely that a new ownership model will need to be found.