There has been a ‘rush’ in GP partnerships seeking advice on adding a ‘green socks’ clause to their partnership agreements, which allows partners to dismiss one another ’for no reason at all’, lawyers have claimed.
The clause is nicknamed the ‘green sock clause’, to signify that the reasons can be as innocuous as wearing the wrong colour socks, and the partners specialist law firm Hempsons Solicitors said in a recent client briefing there has been a surge in interest in such a clause.
The lawyers added that the pressures faced by general practice have meant partners are more likely to be involved in disputes and practices are therefore taking more advice on contractual safeguards.
They also said that the move to create ‘super practices’ and new models of care that would see practices providing secondary care services is also a factor, as it could cause divides between partners.
The briefing said: ’We have seen a rush of clients requesting amendments to be made to their deed to include a “green socks” clause, even without there being another reason to update the deed.’
The law firm said the clause could be useful ’due to the potential difficulty of justifying specific grounds for serving notice of expulsion on a partner’.
Hempsons partner and head of professional services Lynne Abbess told Pulse that recently the firm has seen ‘a number of cases’ of GP partnerships seeking advice on the topic.
She said: ’It is recognition, we believe, of the fact that there are general pressures which are developing in general practice these days that are leading to more disputes between partners.
’Partnerships that have not reviewed deeds for some time, or partnerships which previously took a more softy-softy approach and did not opt for a green socks clause, are now recognising they may have to change their view on this.
‘Because it is not such a cosy world anymore, and you cannot easily, or indeed at all, support a partner who is not a 100% pulling their weight – or is not pulling in the same direction as the rest of the partnership.’
The firm said the push towards new models of working in general practice was also likely a factor.
Ms Abbess said: ’It may be the case that there is a partner who isn’t doing anything wrong but has different interests to the other partners. I would describe that partner as being a square peg in a round hole, and my advice to a partner in that position is to go and find another partnership of square pegs.
‘It could be that a partnership wishes to join a federation or a super practice and if this requires a unanimous vote, just one partner who is not keen to do that could hold them all back.’
But she added that in most cases partners do not actually have to exercise the clause as it acts as a deterrent in its own right.
She said: ’The beauty of a green socks clause is that it is actually a very subtle way of lining everybody up in the same direction.
‘The intention is that you should not need to exercise it because the fact that every partner knows it could be used against them, means they are less likely to step out of line. Someone who does knows there is a risk that the clause could be exercised against them.’
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the GPC was not aware of an increase in the use of green socks clauses.
He said: ’I’ve not heard of any practices changing their partnership agreement specifically for this.’