Isle of Dogs’ medical trust finances referred to Charities Commission by Tower Hamlets mayor

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

The funding of a community health centre in London’s East End is being raised with the Charities Commission and referred to Tower Hamlets council’s legal department in a bid to restore “local accountability”.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

The mayor is in discussions with the commission about the way Island Medical Centre trust is operating on the Isle of Dogs.

Families registered with the centre sent a petition to the Town Hall for backing to save the service they fear faces closure.

The petition follows revelations that the doctors’ surgery is having to quit the premises in East Ferry Road, next to the Asda store, because the trust is charging the practice “an unaffordable service charge”, council members have heard.

“Our health service is being savaged with the health centre at risk of being demolished,” Cllr David Chesterton—a patient at the centre—told the council.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

“This centre was paid for with public funds and is a public asset, secured by local people for their benefit and until recently was run by local people.

“It is not a development opportunity or an asset ripe for stripping.”

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The trust has accumulated reserves of £1.3million. But grants given out were reduced while reserves went up by £900,000, it has emerged.

The petition was lodged by pensioner Doris Penn, 83, who has lived all her life on the Isle of Dogs and was a founding member of the medical centre’s original trustee board for 22 years—until the local members were all replaced last April.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

Speaking to the council for her was businessman Adam Allnutt, also a registered patient, who told councillors: “The centre came about after a hard-fought local campaign by people like Doris.

It was paid for with public funds by the Docklands Development Corporation and the council in the 1980s, when the trust was set up to hold the assets and the property for the public.”

The loan to build the centre has since been paid off, he pointed out, but charges to the NHS by the trust have not been reduced.

None of the new appointed trustees live on the Isle of Dogs—one actually lives in Sweden.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

Most recent account from March last year shows £179,000 paid to the chair’s wholly owned company, councillors heard.

Mr Allnutt added: “We want local accountability to find out why they’ve accumulated so much money and what it was spent on.”

Mayor John Biggs has had a meeting with the chair about accountability and lack of representation on the board of trustees and about the rent being charged to the GPs.

He warned: “We have raised these concerns with the Charities Commission. The annual accounts show £179,000—that’s difficult to understand for a trust that is essentially a voluntary body.

“If it charges rent higher than average GP rents in the East End, we need to find out why it’s doing that, given that it is a trust there to provide a public service.”

The trust is charging the practice a “service charge” equal to two doctors’ salaries.

The practice has now been forced to vacate the first-floor because it can’t afford the rent, the council heard. The Schools’ Psychiatric Service has also been forced to move out and the Massage Therapy service curtailed because of the costs.

Councillors also questioned the salary being paid to the trust chair out of public funds, said to be £179,176 “for consultancy services”.

Cllr Candida Ronald, who chairs the council’s audit committee, said: “The chair of a charitable trust has a turnover of £270,000 and was paid in excess of £179,000 in one year.

“That payment for consultancy service for such a small organisation would be remarkable in any circumstances—the fact it’s been paid to a trustee is mindblowing.”

The council voted to refer the issue to its legal and adult services to establish the current situation and recommend restoring local accountability.