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Practices are becoming embroiled in legal battles as partners dispute how much quality pay colleagues are entitled to.

Arguments are intensifying over whether partners have pulled their weight in earning quality points, leading to an increase in litigation and partnership splits.

Solicitors accused GMS contract negotiators of an oversight in failing to allocate quality points for including clauses in partnership agreements to prevent such disputes.

Daphne Robertson, principal at DR Solicitors, said she had seen a 10-fold increase in GP partnership disputes this summer ­ normally a quiet time.

'Falling out over practice profits increasingly means falling out over QOF points, particularly when tasks have been delegated to a partner and those tasks haven't been performed,' she said.

Lynne Abbess, head of professional practice at Hempsons solicitors, said practices were using quality scores to oust partners who they believed had underperformed for years.

'The QOF might be drawing to a head what were already rumbling problems,' she said.

The quality framework had highlighted the differences in productivity between partners and made everyone more accountable, she said. GPs with partnership agreements that do not protect against points disputes were on 'dangerous ground'.

Other lawyers reported increasing numbers of practices setting points targets for specific partners ­ with a requirement they make up shortfalls themselves ­ or introducing provisions to define and get rid of underperforming partners.

Arthur Dixon, senior manager at Deloitte & Touche, said quarrels over quality earnings in this manner was predictable, particularly when 'there was some sort of internal disruption or ill-feeling'.

Bob Senior, vice-chair of AISMA, the specialist medical accountants association, said: 'There are certainly practices where some partners have been coming under increasing pressure because it is felt they haven't pulled their full share of the weight with the QOF.'

Liz Densley, a partner with Honey Barrett, of Bexhill, East Sussex, said she anticipated a flood of disputes from practices that had delayed updating partnership agreements.

By Daile Pepper

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