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Managing partnership disputes

There are many factors that can cause disputes among partners. Derek Bellew advises on how to deal with common problems

By Derek BellewThere are many factors that can cause disputes among partners. Derek Bellew advises on how to deal with common problemsA change in the 2004 contract for GMS services was that practices, rather than individual GPs, became accountable to primary care organisations. This has meant that GP partners now have a strong interest in ensuring all partners are performing optimally. But disputes between partners can often occur, with the following main causes:• underperformance• health problems• older age.UnderperformanceA partner can be said to be underperforming if they:• do precisely their allotted sessions, but no more• have a poor attitude towards staff and patients • do not fill in for absent colleagues• fail to do adequate medical record-keeping.A partner's performance might not be sufficiently inadequate to draw the primary care organisation's attention and threaten their position on the performer's list or bring about proceedings by the GMC. And it will rarely be possible to expel such a partner under a standard expulsion clause. Communication is key to attempting to deal with underperformers. All practices should have regular and effective meetings between partners and deal with problems when they arise.It may be that the partner concerned was not aware that their behaviour was causing concern, but it is important that the issues are addressed and tackled early or they can become entrenched and the position made worse. Ultimately, it may be necessary to use a ‘green socks' clause in your partnership, enabling a partner to be excluded by the votes of all other partners, if demonstrably breaching the terms of the partnership.Health problemsWith the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act it is more important than ever to have a proper approach to ill health.Mental health issues such as stress and depression are harder to deal with than physical ailments because they are difficult to assess.Again, consultation is important. It is essential that a partnership deed contains a provision to make an ill partner undertake a full independent health assessment. A partnership should consider whether reasonable adjustments can be made to enable the ill partner to carry out a reduced function.However, partnerships should be wary of using an ill-health clause in their partnership deed to exclude partners, because it could lead to expensive discrimination claims.Older ageTraditionally, partnership agreements contained automatic retirement clauses, usually at 65. However, under the Age Discrimination Act, in the case of partnerships at least, it is now illegal to specify a particular retirement age. If a partner is still practising at full capacity, partnerships cannot use a compulsory retirement age clause to exclude them and can only address poor performance using the practice's usual processes for meeting between partners. There is a case in court at the moment concerning a solicitor who was retired under a retirement clause, even though he wanted to continue to practise. Although there has been no verdict as yet, to enforce a retirement age of 65 is likely to risk a substantial discrimination claim.Derek Bellew is a consultant at Veale Wasbrough Lawyers, Bristol

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Readers' comments (2)

  • It's a bit brief and light on detail

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  • does not answer questions regarding if one partners refuses to share profit margins or pays other partners accordingly

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