A quarter of practices in parts of Southern England could be working without formal partnership agreements, leading to more disputes, a lack of clarity around rules and an increased risk of litigation, an LMC leader has warned.
Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said between 20% and 30% of the 400 practices covered by the LMC were working without a legally binding agreement, which he said had led to an increase in disputes that could have been prevented.
He said some practices were working under agreements that were outdated, while others had not added new partners to the contract.
Dr Watson said some practices were making an active decision to work without a partnership agreement, as they believed it meant there would be fewer obligations or were worried about the cost of drawing up a contract.
But he warned working under an informal agreement meant disputes were more likely to be taken to court, and once in court there would be no legal basis for an argument.
As GP workload and stress increases and income decreases, the instance of disputes was rising, he said.
He said 10 practices this year that were considering a partnership split came to the LMC for advice, when under the PMS or GMS contract a split is very difficult to achieve.
Dr Watson said partnership agreements decreased the likelihood of disputes: ‘If you have a practice agreement, if disputes about holiday, voting, sick leave, maternity leave and differences of opinion on decisions about the practice arise there’s a standard practice agreement to refer to.
‘We’ve seen minor problems escalate into major problems, and with no rulebook this rumbles on until the point where they want a partnership split. Some of this could have been avoided if they had the rulebook in the first place.’
He added that the situation was not unique to Wessex and said he believed that partnership agreements should be a part of QOF: ‘Talking to other LMC secretaries, it’s the same across the country.
‘I think should be recognised in QOF as a marker of a responsible practice.’