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GPs head to High Court to fight PMS contract ruling

By Gareth Iacobucci

A group of GPs will head to the High Court today to begin their battle against PCTs' right to unilaterally terminate their PMS contracts.

The GPs from Havering and Greenwich are to challenge whether the health secretary was entitled to introduce regulations permitting PCTs to terminate PMS agreements without cause.

The case has been brought by around 20 practices, following moves by NHS Havering and NHS Greenwich to write in 'variations' to PMS contracts that allow them to unilaterally terminate contracts, a clause which could be applied if GPs do not agree to reductions in funding or tough new requirements for payment.

The moves by PCT managers to write in the contract variations follow the Department of Health's insertion of a new clause into PMS contract regulations last year effectively allowing 'without grounds' terminations.

The changes, brought in under previous health secretary Andy Burnham, came after the test case of dentist Eddie Crouch in 2008, who established it was then illegal for PCTs to terminate the dentists' equivalent of a PMS contract without cause.

A statement on behalf of the 20 GPs from Havering and Greenwich said: 'We have come to court today for the benefit of our patients.'

'If we had not taken this action, some of our surgeries would no longer be viable and would have closed down, others would have been forced to reduce services, and this includes making doctors and nurses in the front line of primary care redundant.

'Although some of the 20 GPs who have brought the case to court are nearing retirement, they have nevertheless joined the action because they are concerned for the future of their practices. They wish to ensure their patients will continue to receive the same high standard of care after they have retired.

The statement added: 'If any of us had thought that our contracts could be terminated without cause when we signed our contracts seven years ago none of us would have become PMS. We trusted the assurances given by our PCT and the Secretary of State.

'We believe that our case also has wider implications for primary care as there is little incentive for investment in general practice if contracts can be unilaterally terminated without cause with only a few months notice.'

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