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GPs to challenge PMS contract ruling in High Court

By Amy Fallon

Exclusive: A group of GPs has launched a landmark legal case against PCTs' right to unilaterally axe PMS contracts and will challenge health secretary Andrew Lansley in the High Court next month.

A judicial review on whether the secretary of state was entitled to introduce regulations permitting PCTs to terminate PMS agreements without cause has been set for June. The hearings have been brought by around 30 practices from Havering and Greenwich in London, a source told Pulse.

The case has been tabled as PCTs across London begin moves to write in 'variations' to PMS contracts that will reduce the payment per patient and impose a raft of additional performance management measures.

Pulse understands that some trusts are threatening to terminate contracts in cases where GPs do not agree to the terms, after the Department of Health inserted a new clause into PMS contract regulations last year effectively allowing 'without grounds' terminations.

The change to PMS regulations, brought in under the 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.

The DH revisions last year prompted a separate legal challenge by a PMS GP last June against NHS Havering, after it attempted to revise its PMS contracts to allow unilateral termination as a means of forcing through income cuts of up to 40%.

At the time, NHS Havering withdrew the proposed changes, saying it would reissue them to comply with due process.

Barrister Simon Butler, from Ely Place Chambers – who secured victory for the dentists in 2008 and worked on the Havering case – told Pulse he has now been instructed on behalf of a GP in Havering.

Dr Karim Jan-Mohamed, a GP in Greenwich, is also named as a claimant, according to court officials.

'The short answer is that there's going to be a judicial review on PMS and the termination clauses currently used by some practices,' Dr Jan-Mohamed confirmed.

Another GP in south-east London involved in the case, who asked not to be named, told Pulse: 'Our variation contains numerous targets and policing, with ever-increasing performance management pressures. I am in favour of transparency and good standards, but I think general practice is in danger of suffocation. If the PCTs get away with these variations, it won't be long before the Government does the same with any national GP contract.'

Both NHS South East London and the Department of Health said they could not comment while court proceedings were ongoing.

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Threats of terminations can only be disruptive and reduce morale.'

Dr Surendra Dhariwal, a PMS GP in Newham, east London, said he 'strongly supported' the legal challenge: 'This law is not only be against natural justice, but also against the human rights of a doctor.'

Dr Surendra Dhariwal