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GP practices now being chased for decade-old seniority payments

GP practices now being chased for decade-old seniority payments

GP practices could be asked to repay thousands of pounds, after being contacted about seniority payments calculations dating back 10 years.

Pulse most recently reported in February that NHS England was seeking a legal avenue to reclaim £28m in historical overpayments.

But the adjustments may relate to GP partners who have now retired, left the practice, or are deceased, or to practices that have now closed or merged, which the BMA warned could complicate matters.

The issue has arisen as NHS England – via Primary Care Support England – has been undertaking a ‘Seniority payment reconciliation’ exercise.

Seniority payments were made to principal GPs in recognition of their years of NHS reckonable service. The scheme closed to new applicants on the 1 April, 2014 and the last payments were made at the end of March 2020. 

Seniority was paid ‘on account’ (based on an interim estimate of entitlement submitted by practices) and then adjustments would be made when the Final Seniority Factor (FSF), which is the actual entitlement to seniority pay,  is published.

This was usually three years later, according to NHS England.

However, the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 Final Seniority Factors have only just been published. 

And a GPCE letter, sent yesterday, said NHS England and PCSE are only now reviewing the adjustments made for the financial years 2013/14 to 2016/2017.

‘This exercise is not completed but practices will be contacted once this has occurred,’ it said.

The letter went on to say: ‘Because the entitlement to seniority pay can only be known once the FSF is calculated, this adjustment in actual pay may result in a potential under or overpayment. Practices are now being contacted with this calculation. The absolute sums involved are likely to vary considerably from less than £ten to £thousands.’

GPCE sets out what action practices should take once they are notified by PCSE about final figures.

For example, it says current partners should take advice from their accountants on the amounts that need to be repaid, where this is the case.

‘The amounts can be challenged,’ it said.

The letter, signed by GPCE deputy chair Dr Julius Parker, went on to explain: ‘Once figures are agreed, current partners should, if necessary, inform any retired previous partners (including partners of a then different practice if a merger has occurred) of this information.

‘If a partner is deceased, clearly this may be a more sensitive exercise but at the least the information provided by PCSE should be made available to beneficiaries of the partners estate, if known and contactable. If there is no way of doing so, PCSE should be informed.’

Meanwhile, it’s believed practices (as opposed to those that merged) should not be contacted about surgeries now closed, GPCE has said.

On its site, PCSE said that the delay in making these calculations available was because it involved ‘a complex information gathering exercise’.

‘As the Seniority scheme itself has now finished we are working through a retrospective programme to identify and make adjustments to close the scheme off.’

Tony Brown, a former practice manager and now chief operating officer at North Shields PCN Collaboration said working through this will be difficult for practice managers.

‘How on earth is a practice manager meant to unravel something that was out of their hands and introduced in 2014? That’s almost a decade ago.

‘In financial law, accounts are only required to kept for six years, PCSE is potentially asking overworked practices to review financial information outside of that period, with partners that either aren’t still working or, as they say in their communications, could now be deceased.

‘Practice accounts will have been ratified for years, settlements agreed, retirements and pensions confirmed. And no practice will want to be calling widows or widowers to discuss this.’

Mr Brown said that one solution would be for any repayments owed by practices to be written off but that ‘payments owed to practices should still be made’.

However, Andrew Pow, of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants (AISMA), said for most practices this shouldn’t be a big issue and some will have planned for ‘final reconciliations’.

He said: ‘If the figures calculated by PCSE appear to show partners have been significantly overpaid, practice managers should speak to their practice accountants. 

‘Accountants who specialise in GP accounts are likely to have been aware of changes in a partner’s circumstances that could have affected their seniority payments, for example if they had reduced their hours. Consequently, reserves may have been set aside within the practice accounts to cover any final reconciliations.

‘If reserves have not been made in the accounts, the overpayment will need to be allocated to the partner concerned. If they have moved on from the practice, or are deceased, practices should follow the advice set out in the letter from the BMA.’

A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Jarvis 26 October, 2023 4:51 pm

So 6 month limitation on paying someone for flu jabs but 10 years they other way. Hmmm.

David Jarvis 26 October, 2023 4:56 pm

Sorry I get ranty but the issue with seniority was you had to be within a certain percentage of average income to get full seniority. Whilst I can see part time getting part pay many low earning GP’s often small practices in deprived areas despite working full time did not meet the threshold of earnings so were reduced in seniority pay (nothing like punching down is there) pay but those administering hadn’t got a clue and most GP’s final income number for a year was often only known 18 months past partly because of delays in payment of fees by you know who. If they are going back 10 years I believe you only need to keep copies of financial records back 7 years so some judicious shredding may be called for.

Douglas Callow 26 October, 2023 5:44 pm

past the 6 year statute of limitations

David Jarvis 26 October, 2023 6:22 pm

Note that NHSE have 6 month limitation when it comes for paying for flu jabs.

David Church 26 October, 2023 8:09 pm

If NHSE had not asked for the money back within 3 months, they should not do so now, as it would involve making financial demands from estates well past probate, and would have tax rebate implications which would not be possible more than 6 years after tax accounts are closed!

Mike Baverstock 26 October, 2023 10:05 pm

I have read the above and find this witch hunt difficult to believe. I retired after the years in question and during my working years I breached the lifetime allowance limit and thus had some of my pension reduced. If indeed there is some clawback then the pensions agency should be involved to help out GPs, such as myself, who breached the lifetime allowance due to putting too much into their pensions. As David says above there will also be income tax and national insurance consequences. Also it would affect superannuation payments. What a whole palaver!

Adam Crowther 27 October, 2023 8:31 am

I am surprised that NHSE have the time and person power to go through this exercise given the current issues across our health service🤷🏻‍♂️ Hopefully they are working on clawing back all that wasted faulty ppe money too or is that in 7 years time 🤔

Anthony Gould 27 October, 2023 11:53 am

How can NHSE expect to reclaim ninety after 6 years plus
Is there not a 6 year legal limit ?

Rogue 1 27 October, 2023 3:46 pm

They need to concentrate and getting the current system working properly and payments made on time now.
Not wasting time in these historical errors, which are way past sorting out

Simon Gilbert 29 October, 2023 11:19 am

The predictable outcome of the NHSE seniority payments manager returning from 7 years sick leave…

Alan Woodall 29 October, 2023 11:56 am

All part of NHS England’s crusade on making partnerships unattractive. Bravo.

Richard Greenway 30 October, 2023 4:05 pm

This will in theory require unpicking of tax returns and pension returns for partnerships and GPs. HMRC probably won’t allow anyway beyond 6 years. If practices can’t have flu payments from 2 yrs ago that all parties agree were delivered -there needs to be a level playing field. Should be written off .

Ian Jacobs 31 October, 2023 7:34 pm

I am not sure if I am permitted to comment – having retired 10 years ago.

Whenever there is a change of personnel within a partnership- the old partnership is dissolved and a new one needs to be created.

My understanding of the article is that in the situations that may involve significant sums, partnership or practice accountants are the only party who will be able to produce sensible and relevant figures. ( presumably to be paid for by existing partners )

But as my comment above alludes to- should an existing partnership commission their accountants to undertake work that may result in a detrimental financial outcome for them ?

Do each newly formed partnerships have to sign a new contract agreement with their accountants ? Otherwise , new partnerships may find that their accountants (who were likely to have been engaged by previous partners or partnership(s)) are asking them to disentangle something that is not a relevant issue for the current partnership .

What recourse would HMRC have in such a situation ? Who might they pursue for any funds owing ?

Can HMRC insist that an existing partnership is liable for errors that preceeded their formation date ?

What is the legal position about ” continuity ” in such a situation ?

Sounds like there will be work and fees income for the accountants and lawyers required , HMRC will end up with a slice that
they feel they are entitled to- leaving individual GP’s and GP partnerships past and present effectively paying these bills.

Centreground Centreground 1 November, 2023 1:28 pm

Once more we again come to the conclusion that NHS England with its grand title is in fact a demonstrably failing and failed organisation littered with incompetent individuals who are rarely identifiable for obvious reasons. Furthermore NHSE persistently has an agenda for portraying other groups i.e., GP Practices as underperforming with constant charts and targets thereby concealing the reality that it is in fact NHS England that exists as one of the worlds most disorganised and poorly performing outfits causing this healthcare decline.

Again, the disastrous contribution of NHS England and NHS leaders at all levels to the current failing NHS and the misery being caused to NHS staff and patients should not be underestimated.

Imogen Bloor 9 November, 2023 6:12 pm