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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Partners aren't on speaking terms but won't admit it

This week

a 'typical' practice

problem is looked at

from different

perspectives by

two GPs

The relationship between two of my partners has never been particularly good, although they have always managed to maintain an uneasy peace. But recently I have noticed they barely seem to be on speaking terms. The practice manager says any apparent disparity in their number of visits, medical reports and so on results in friction, and staff are getting upset at having to act as go-betweens relaying messages between the two partners. I have asked each partner separately if he has any problems with workload or other matters and have received strong denials.

GP's advice

Partners are being cowardly and unreasonable

Personality clashes are inevitable in any practice of more than two or three partners, but most GPs manage to live with colleagues' imperfections and maintain a façade of civilised behaviour. You must surely have some idea of why these two partners dislike one another so much, even if the reason has never been stated.

In acting out their disagreements using the staff as pawns, they are both behaving in a cowardly and unreasonable manner. If this isn't stopped promptly, your staff will start leaving, and a staff member who resigned over this matter would have a good prospect of succeeding with a claim for constructive dismissal. It is also possible the partners are making waspish comments about one another to patients, compromising the reputation of the entire practice.

You have taken on the thankless task of trying to act as intermediary. Speak to the offending partners separately again, but this time do not tread warily around the subject ­ spell out to them that the staff are complaining about having been drawn involuntarily into what is clearly a very personal dispute, assure them that they are both good doctors and you want to continue working with them, and tell them they must behave like adults and either air their problem at a practice meeting so that it can be resolved or shove it back in the closet.

If they still refuse to co-operate, you may have no option but to dissolve the partnership.

 · If the dispute cannot be resolved, you may have to dissolve the partnership

GP's advice

'Cold war' between partners is unacceptable

Starting from an already cool relationship, it is clear something has happened to tip the delicate equilibrium between these two partners. You obviously have no idea what this might be but it is now vital that they resolve this 'cold war'. Once this sort of problem has reached the point where the smooth running of your practice is affected it ceases to be a personal matter. Not only could staff leave but also one or both of the protagonists. Intervention is essential.

It is often said being in partnership is rather like a marriage so you should employ similar tactics to marriage guidance counselling. Who is the best intermediary here? It should be someone that both partners will respect and respond to. A direct approach is vital. While each partner should be given a chance to explain their actions, it must also be made clear their behaviour is unacceptable in professionals. Whatever their differences, they owe it to the practice as well as to themselves to resolve them.

Establishing an uneasy truce is not on, as sooner or later the problem will resurface. Encourage the partners to meet, with a facilitator, and face all the issues between them. If their differences are personal and/or emotional they may prefer confidential independent conciliation. If their differences are irreconcilable then formally discuss (and record) the issue at a partnership meeting, as the partnership may have to end.

 · Establishing an uneasy truce is not on as sooner or later the problem will resurface

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