Exclusive A GP partner has been denied a £20,000 new-to-partnership payment after NHS England U-turned on changes to eligibility rules, Pulse has learned.
Wolverhampton GP partner Dr Ian Martin’s application for the payment was originally rejected in September 2020 but after Pulse brought the case to the BMA, NHS England said it had amended its rules.
Now Pulse has learned that Dr Martin was again rejected for the payment last year on the same grounds as the first time, against the promised rule change.
How were the eligibility rules changed?
The controversy centres around ‘fixed-share’ GP partners. These are partners who are entitled to a fixed share of partnership profits but may not be required to contribute to losses, depending on their partnership agreement. They may also have more limited voting rights than equity partners.
Equity partners are those who enjoy full partnership rights, including participating in profits and losses and voting on all partnership matters.
In October 2020, Pulse reported that new fixed-share partners had been told they were not eligible for the new-to-partnership payment. They were also told they would also be ineligible to reapply to the scheme when they became a full equity partner because they would no longer be a ‘first-time’ partner.
After Pulse raised the issue with the BMA, the ‘Catch-22’ rules were amended so that new partners can get the payment without holding an equity share. NHS England said that first-time partners with a fixed share of practice profits who receive equal shares to other partners or a share of no less than 10% would be eligible.
NHS England also agreed that when partners begin with a fixed-share ‘probationary’ period before moving to a full equity share, they would be accepted onto the scheme once they become a shareholding partner on an equity basis, as long as the probationary period started after the scheme began on 1 April 2020.
Dr Martin lodged an appeal in October 2020, confirming that his share was ‘not less than 10%’, but in January last year this was formally rejected by NHS England ‘in direct contradiction to the assurances that they gave me, you and the BMA’, he told Pulse.
In an email seen by Pulse, NHS England said: ‘Our scheme eligibility sets out that an individual must be an equity-share partner and, in your case, you signed a fixed-share agreement on the 1 April 2020 and are receiving a salary.
‘Our scheme eligibility also sets out that an individual cannot have been a partner of any type prior to their application to the scheme. This includes fixed-salary partnership, and in your case your current role which commenced on the 1 April 2020.’
It added: ‘The reason for this criterion is that the scheme intends to encourage clinicians to make a fresh choice to accept a partnership role, whereas we consider you are already on your partnership journey.
‘I therefore regret to inform you that we have deemed you are not eligible for the scheme and your current role prohibits you from applying to the scheme if you were to become an equity-share partner in the future.’
Dr Martin – who is moving to an equity share from the start of the next financial year – told Pulse the situation is ‘demoralising’, ‘doesn’t make sense’ and makes it feel as though GPs and NHS England are ‘not on the same team’.
He said: ‘Basically if you have a fixed-drawings partnership, it doesn’t count as a partnership for applying to the new-to-partnership payment. I can see there is an argument for that, but you can’t also use that as an exclusion from being able to apply for it in the future. It just doesn’t make sense.
‘You just feel like we’re not on the same team. I don’t have many dealings with NHS England, but everything I do seems to be a fight, really.’
‘The longer this goes on the more demoralising it becomes,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Martin said that although he is now recruiting new partners due to his current partner retiring, he doesn’t feel he can tell them ‘in good faith’ that NHS England is offering the payment.
He told Pulse: ‘It would be great if I could give them some assurance – if I could try and attract people on the basis of the fact there was a new-to-partnership payment that we could apply for.
‘[And] it would be nice to be able to have the option of giving them a fixed share if that’s what they want or it’s the right thing for the practice without that disadvantaging them and us going forward.’
He added: ‘But I can’t in good faith go to people saying, “if you come and join me as a partner, there’s this”, because I’m pretty sure they’re not going to give it to them.
‘I don’t know whether they’re actually giving any of these out.’
A BMA spokesperson told Pulse: ‘All GPs who became a first-time partner on an equity-share basis after 1 April 2020 are eligible for the New to Partnership scheme, including those who became partners on a fixed share basis after 1 April 2020, but who then moved to an equity share.
‘If any such GPs have been denied access to the scheme, we would encourage them to reach out to the BMA for support.’
Pulse has approached NHS England for comment.
NHS England announced last month that the new-to-partnership payment scheme would be extended for another financial year into 2022/23.
It also removed the requirement to apply within six months of starting a partnership role ‘in acknowledgement of the challenges the deadline presented to busy new partners as well as the additional pressures created by the Covid-19 pandemic’.
The golden handshake-style scheme was launched in July 2020 and also offers up to £3,000 as a training fund to support staff to transition to practice partnership.
Currently, 12 professions are eligible for the scheme, which is due to end in March 2023 – GPs, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, physios, paramedics, midwives, dietitians, podiatrists, occupational therapists, mental health practitioners and physician associates.
Maximise your practice's financial potential and compare your performance with peers with Pulse Intelligence. Register for a 30 day free trial.