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Partnership disputes set to escalate

An 'inevitable' surge in partnership disputes is being predicted as GPs try to stop

under-performing colleagues getting an unfair share of practice profits.

Lawyers and accountants are warning the increase in performance-based pay from the quality framework is set to 'flush out' partners who are not pulling their weight, leading to a rise in quarrels between GPs.

The forecast came as long-awaited BMA guidance on partnership agreements recognised the issue is set to pose a problem for GPs.

It suggests GPs may wish to allow profit shares to be altered to take account of differing contributions. But it admits this could be 'divisive'.

Susan Cowan, medical practices partner at Lester Aldridge solicitors in Bourne-mouth, said rows would begin when GPs began to see their income affected by other partners.

She said: 'It will take a while for there to be disputes on that basis, but it's inevitable.'

Daphne Robertson, founding partner of DR Solicitors, said practices had to put themselves on a more commercial footing by including sanctions against lesser-performing partners. 'The quality framework will without doubt flush out under-performing doctors, or certainly polarise doctors' expertise,' she said. 'If someone is under-performing, the practice needs to deal with it through a separate agreement.'

The BMA's partnership guidance stressed the importance of GPs updating their agreements to take account of the new contract. It also warned the dangers of not having a partnership deal have massively increased.

Paul Kendall, specialist medical partner at Dodd & Co accountants, said the earning potential of the quality framework made it important for GPs to create a 'compulsion' for each partner to work towards targets and a means to alter profit shares if that fails.

GPs warned penalising doctors on the basis of how many quality points they generated was a knee-jerk reaction.

Dr James Graham, a GP in Liverpool, said: 'It could just mean they are under-recording. Quality points are not a measure of how good or bad a doctor is.'

How to avoid practice conflict

l GMS and PMS practices are 'strongly advised' to enter into written partnership agreements – failure to do so increases the likelihood of legal action and creates added difficulties if the practice splits

l Written agreement provides 'maximum protection' to partners in relation to assets when they admit a new doctor

l Agreement clearly splits up practice and private income and limits the liabilities of separate businesses on the practice

l GPs advised to beware clauses that allow exclusion or expulsion of one partner at the discretion of others

Source: BMA

By Ian Cameron

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