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New partnership agreement needs lawyer's touch

Your partnership agreement may not match up to the new contract – so get a lawyer, advises Dr Michael Parks

What implications does the new contract have for the partnership agreement? This is an important question and one often asked of us at the LMC.

Most practices already have practice agreements and these should be adequate for the time being. But however carefully drawn up they were, they are now out of date and will not cover some of the situations thrown up by the new contact. GMS2 is held by the practice and not by individuals. Quite a bit of our pay is tied up in the quality and outcomes framework and therefore not paid for more than a year, so what happens if one of partners dies or leaves at the wrong time of the year? Moreover, some of us may be contemplating partnerships that include non-doctors.

Help is desperately needed and I am pleased to say the GPC has promised to publish an advisory document on partnership agreements. But understandably it says it will not be able to produce a one-size-fits-all model agreement so we all have to look after our own interests.

I am in a medium-sized practice with 9,500 patients and seven colleagues, some of them part-time like myself. With the introduction of the new contract our practice manager foresaw lots of ways in which the partners could fall out, and also a number of partnership problems that could emerge. As a result she urged us to draw up a new agreement.

Our previous agreement – thankfully never put to the test – was drawn up by the partners, the practice manager and a local solicitor. It took a lot of time and commitment by partners and practice manager, so although on paper it was relatively inexpensive (about £700 or so) we felt in terms of time and effort it was quite an undertaking.

Because of this, for our new agreement we decided to go to a solicitor who specialised in medical matters. We wanted an agreement that was as near as possible watertight. Our practice manager had been to an LMC meeting about practice agreements and had been exposed to the erudition of Ros Parkin of Lockharts in London. She had been interested by what she had heard and we decided to plump for Lockharts to produce our new agreement.

In fact I already knew the names of a number of solicitors our LMC has positive experience of, and I believe any LMC would be able to offer GPs a helpful list if asked.

Having approached Lockharts we were given a long questionnaire to fill in. From our replies they will draft the new practice agreement for our approval. We have been quoted a price of £2,000. This will increase if we are indecisive, change our minds too often or fail to fill in the questionnaire thoroughly.

We will need to spend some time together to come to a consensus about some of the issues, so we haven't been able to avoid practice time and commitment altogether.

Time certainly is money, but we are going to take a positive view, regarding the time we spend together as team and character building.

Using a specialist solicitor

lAsk advice of LMC and local colleagues regarding which solicitor to choose

lDiscuss costs, requirements and so on, carefully with solicitor having chosen them

lBe decisive, and do what the solicitor asks you –

it will keep costs down

lExpect to pay about £2,000 for an average partnership agreement

Michael Parks is a GP in Deal, Kent, and a medical secretary with Kent LMC

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