Exclusive GP leaders are urging practices not to sign a new version of the GMS contract circulated by NHS managers to at least 300 practices, warning that a ‘cock-up’ over the wording prohibits practices from taking legal action against their local area team.
The contract circulated by the West Midlands local area team has excluded the option – recommended by GPC – for practices to sign as non-NHS bodies. The main consequence of signing this, GP leaders say, is that practices waive their right to challenge any contractual disputes via the courts.
The GPC is currently investigating if this is a regional or national matter and whether the wording was intentional or a mistake.
NHS England admitted that an ‘erroneous’ contract had been sent out to some practices and it was up to GPs themselves to check for the mistake.
In an update to practices, the LMC said: ‘The LMC and GPC advice to practices has always been to elect NOT to be an NHS body, as if the practice elects to be an NHS body it forgoes its right to opt to have contract disputes dealt with through the courts rather than solely through the NHS disputes procedure.
‘It’s unclear at present whether this errant version of the contract has been sent, or is intended to be sent, to Birmingham practices, but if you have or do receive it then the LMC would strongly advise you not to sign it and return it to your CCG, requesting a version of the contract which allows you to opt out of NHS body status. Your CCG contract manager has been copied in to this message.’
Birmingham LMC executive secretary and head of the GPC’s contracts and regulation subcommittee Dr Robert Morley said the documents had been circulated across the whole West Midlands, including in Birmingham, Black Country, Solihull, Coventry, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, in the past weeks.
He told Pulse: ‘The NHS contract must give practices the choice of either opting to be an NHS body or opting not to be an NHS body and that is the wording that should be in the contract. Certainly some NHS England offices have sent a new contract out for practices to sign that doesn’t give them the option and simply obliges them to be an NHS body.
‘The relevance of this is that if you opt to be an NHS body then you are precluded from using the courts for any contract disputes, you must use the NHS disputes procedure. Whereas if you opt not to be an NHS body then you have the choice of going to the courts. That is the key issue and we have advised our practices that they must not sign this.’
Dr Morley said it was as yet unclear whether NHS England had made a mistake or was trying to change the contractual terms.
He said: ‘I am assuming that it is a cock-up but one does wonder whether someone is trying to slip this in through the backdoor, because it seems to be no coincidence that when a cock-up does happen it always seems to be in the direction of something that is more detrimental rather than beneficial to practices.’
The wording in the erroneous contract states that ‘[t]he Contractor has elected to be regarded as a health service body for the purposes of section 9 of the 2006 Act. Accordingly, this Contract is an NHS contract’.
However, the real contract gives signatories the opportunity to choose that ‘[t]he Contractor has [not] elected to be regarded as a health service body for the purposes of section 9 of the 2006 Act. Accordingly, this Contract is [not] an NHS contract’.
Acknowledging the error, NHS England said that for 114 practices in Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country it had transferred over the existing NHS body status that was on their contract before reverting to GMS from PMS.
It said it ‘acknowledged’ this was ‘a decision that shouldn’t have been made on an assumption’ and said it would ‘work with any GP practice who want to amend their new GMS contracts via the contract variation process’.
Meanwhile, for 213 practices in the Coventry, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, NHS England said it was ‘a simple admin error on the contract that in the default, did not give the option for practices to decide whether they want to be an NHS body’.
A spokesperson said: ‘Again, we have offered practices the opportunity to amend this.’
The spokesperson added: ‘NHS England would like to stress that the new GMS contracts were not purposely manipulated to ensure GP practices agree to terms that they are not happy with. We will continue to work transparently with all practices to ensure they are happy with their contractual arrangements and ultimately, be content in their role to continue to provide high-quality patient care.’
NHS England said that it was ‘requesting that all practices that have received a new contract check the content prior to signing and returning to us’.