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Warning on PCO disputes

By Ian Cameron

GPs should be wary of signing their contract if they still have disputes with their primary care organisation because they could end up bound into sections they are contesting, say lawyers.

The warning comes after GPC negotiators told practices to sign their contract by March 31, but mark any parts of it they do not agree with and renegotiate them with their PCO in the following weeks.

They said this stops practices being forced into the less lucrative default contract and ensures they are paid for essential and additional services they are already providing.

But lawyers have warned GPs to ensure their PCO has agreed to the process and that both sides have signed up to further negotiations.

Practices have to agree indicative budgets with their PCO by March 5, then have less than four weeks before they sign their final contract.

Michael Barrett, a solicitor at lawyers Hempsons, said GPs should prepare initial comments on the draft documents and be prepared to amend them again later when their PCO sends back its responses.

'Changes to a draft contract can be typed or written onto the document and initialled by each side before it is concluded, or changes can be marked up on a word processor, after which a fresh printed copy with those amendments is

issued,' he said.

'However, in the case of the new contract, beware – any variation of terms must be signed and agreed mutually between the PCO and GP.'

Dr Chris Newdick, a lecturer in law at Reading University, said practices must ensure the rest of the contract is not scuppered if they don't agree to certain elements. 'Practices must make sure PCTs are still prepared to contract with them,' he said.

GP negotiators said most of the contract is not subject to local agreement and few GPs will have disputes.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said GPs should not go through every clause. 'Where there is a choice, in agreement with the PCT you can mark it as ''in dispute'' but say you want to sign the contract and say it has to be priced afterwards.'

he said.

'If it's then not in your favour you don't do it and just cancel that section.'

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