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PMS practices face ‘precarious future’ after legal ruling

Exclusive PMS practices face a ‘precarious' future in the wake of a landmark court judgment that gave PCTs the power to force GPs to accept PMS changes or face contract termination, legal experts have warned.

Lawyers at Lockharts Solicitors have warned that PMS contracts are ‘increasingly insecure' after a High Court ruling in June upheld a controversial clause allowing PCTs to terminate PMS contracts with only six-months notice.

A group of 20 GPs from Havering and Greenwich had challenged the PCTs and the Department of Health on whether the Secretary of State was entitled to insert a new clause into PMS contracts that allowed ‘without grounds' terminations. The court ruling disagreed and ruled against the GPs.

A Pulse investigation also reveals that a host of PMS practices face contract reviews in the wake of the ruling. NHS Hertfordshire has launched a review of PMS contracts with 13 practices and NHS East London of City is also reviewing PMS contracts that will impact practices in Newham, Tower Hamlets and City and Hackney.

Michael Rourke, associate solicitor, at Lockharts Solicitors said: ‘Practices with PMS reviews are in a more precarious position than at any time previously.'

‘If practices do not accept changes advanced by PCTs in these reviews, it appears there is an increasing chance that they will have their PMS agreements terminated or be forced to revert to GMS with the financial penalties that are likely to arise.'

Meanwhile the group of GPs who launched the original High Court challenge will continue their battle at local level.

Simon Butler, a barrister at Ely Place chambers who is representing the GPs, said they will challenge NHS Havering's review and seek ‘local dispute resolution'. He attacked PCTs for thinking that the ruling is a ‘green light' to end PMS contracts.

He said: ‘The high court ruling should not be seen as a green light for PCTs to terminate contracts. The feeling at the moment is that PCT's are putting GPs on PMS practices in a very difficult position by telling them that the contracts will be terminated if they don't accept revisions to them.' 

Dr Prakash Chandra, GP in Newham at a PMS practice and chair of Newham LMC said: ‘I think PCTs have certainly been emboldened by the court ruling, and they are now looking to push through the negotiations by hook and by crook. The Government is giving them very strong support and instruction, they want it to be done and dusted.'

‘I am worried about it.We have got 28 or 29 practices in Newham, and they are negotiating collectively as a group.'

Dr Chandra added: ‘I think we will have little choice but to accept or they unilaterally implement the contract and we will lose funding.'