The BMA’s legal service is offering packages for primary care networks seeking legal advice, at a cost of £5,000 for the larger networks.
BMA Law, the BMA’s not-for-profit legal service provider, is offering two packages that practices can buy for 10p per patient – working out at £5,000 for the bigger networks – for a bespoke package, or localities can purchase pro-forma advice for £10,000 for all networks in a region.
But LMC leaders have said that its ‘not fair’ that practices have to cough up the funding to join the new networks, which were negotiated by the BMA.
The BMA has said it is ‘no different’ to situations where practices seek legal advice for partnership agreements, leases and other legal situations.
Under the new contract, practices had to join networks to unlock much of their current funding, including £1.50 per patient from their CCG.
However, there have been fears that the deadline was too short, with practices having to join by 15 May, and that there are a number of problematic issues around tax and network agreements that need expert advice.
BMA Law offers ‘bespoke PCN’ packages that will provide remote support for networks on drawing up the terms of the agreement on service split, financial arrangement and dispute resolution, among other things.
This includes an hour of telephone support following up the drafting of the contract, and on issues such as data handling.
The £10,000 package provides a proforma agreement that individual network leads can ‘mould’ for their own purposes.
A BMA spokesman said: ‘This is no different to practices looking for legal advice on partnership agreements, leases and other areas that require a legal input. It is ultimately up to PCNs and their constituent practices how they choose to pay for any legal advice.’
But LMC leaders have said that the cost of the packages is ‘quite an expensive deal for primary care networks’.
Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire LMC chief executive Dr Matt Mayer said as it was the BMA that negotiated the contract, he expected them to ‘provide or fund the legal and accountancy advice that practices desperately need’.
He said: ‘It is simply not fair to instead leave each network to source this themselves, at their own cost, eating into the money that was promised to them.’
He added: ‘Our LMC has been inundated with messages from concerned constituents struggling to find legal advice and support to set up their PCNs.
‘Practices are feeling let down and abandoned, and understandably will ask what exactly they’re paying BMA member subscriptions for.’
Lincolnshire LMC medical director Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘At 10p per patient, it’s quite an expensive deal for PCNs. It would basically eat into all the money they have for administration so it means they would be significantly restricted in what services they can prepare for their patients. So locally we’ve decided not to support it.’
Dr Sharrock added: ‘I feel like the funding for the enhanced service didn’t recognise the need for legal and financial advice because, obviously, PCNs need to speak to their accountants.
‘The £1.50 per head that networks will be receiving is really designed to pay for clinical and administrative workforce to design care pathways, work with CCGs and community trusts to improve the care of patients. It shouldn’t be feathering the nests of accountants and lawyers. It looks like that’s what it going to have to do. PCNS are legal structures, which need proper governance and support.
‘As an LMC, we’re trying to support our constituent PCNs and we will be providing them with a small amount of funding towards legal and financial costs, but really the enhanced services should’ve recognised the need for this and funded it properly.’
A BMA Law spokesperson said: ‘Understanding that every network is different, all our packages are bespoke and adaptable to the network’s individual needs. We also offer ad-hoc advice on individual matters to those who do not wish to proceed with either package option – providing clear quotes from the outset and always offering preferential rates to BMA members.’
BMA Law describes itself as ‘an independent law firm established by the British Medical Association. Operating on a not-for-profit basis, all surpluses are reinvested back into the BMA towards services for doctors’.
BMA Law has also stated it hosts free legal advice clinics for BMA members, and helped to develop the PCN handbook published in March.
Practices are currently not charged for using the BMA Employer Advisory Service, which provides services such as HR and employment advice, tribunal support, and a partnership agreement checking service.
However, the BMA has confirmed that it is currently drawing up an Employer Advisory Service package for networks, the cost of which has yet to be decided.