Twenty-four-hour retirement is a mechanism whereby a GP retires temporarily before returning to practice. The retirement triggers the start of pension payments and release of the lump sum under the NHS pension scheme. No further contributions are made once the retirement is effected.
There are three key rules for the retiring GP. He or she must:
- retire for at least 24 hours
- work no more than 16 hours per week for the first month after retirement and
- make arrangements for the practice contract to continue throughout and beyond the 24-hour retirement.
Retirement in the case of a GP contractor also requires the GP to cease providing general practice medical services for the period of the retirement and for arrangements to be made for the practice contract to continue. If they are not, it will terminate. These arrangements will depend partly on whether the contractor is a sole practitioner or a partner, and partly on the form of contract held by the practice.
Where the retiring GP practises in partnership, arrangements must be made for the practice contract to continue with the other partner(s) during the retirement, and for the GP to be re-admitted as a contractor on returning to the practice.
If there is no partnership agreement, statutory rules will apply and, unless all the partners agree otherwise, the only way that a partner can retire is to dissolve the partnership. It is common for a GP partnership agreement to include provisions permitting a partner to take 24-hour retirement and return as a partner afterwards (subject to the necessary arrangements being made to ensure continuation of the practice contract). If there are no such provisions, a GP wishing to take 24-hour retirement will need the consent of his partners.
If the retiring GP is a sole practitioner, it will be necessary to recruit a partner or partners to hold the practice contract during the period of retirement. This might be a permanent recruitment or a temporary one purely to facilitate the 24-hour retirement. An agreement describing the terms of the arrangement between the partners must be formalised.
PMS, GMS and APMS GPs
A GMS contract can be ‘handed over' between partners eligible to hold the contract, provided that the notice requirements in the GMS regulations are followed precisely. The practice must notify the PCT of each partnership change, that is, of the admittance of the new temporary partner (in the case of a sole practitioner), the retirement of the GP taking 24-hour retirement and of the subsequent re-admittance of the retiring GP. The regulations require that at least 28 days advance notice is given to the PCT when a GMS contract is transferred from a partnership to a single-handed contractor (and vice versa).
A PMS agreement differs. The PCT must consent to vary the agreement each time that there is a partnership change. While a PCT will usually consent to such variations as a matter of routine, it does have the discretion to refuse the variation and may occasionally do so. A PCT is most likely to do this where it considers that the partnership change could have a negative impact on capacity to deliver services. The PCT might also use the proposed change as an opportunity to alter the terms of the PMS agreement.
As it is easier to ensure continuation of a GMS contract in the case of a 24-hour retirement, PMS practices may consider exercising their regulatory right to have their current agreement replaced with a GMS contract. Practices should seek advice from a specialist accountant on the likely impact on practice income. At least three months' notice is required to effect this change and the notice requirements for GMS contracts will then apply for the purposes of the 24-hour retirement.
If the practice holds an APMS contract, the requirements will be similar to those for PMS, although the practice will not have the option to have the contract replaced with a GMS contract.
Role of the returning partner
GP contractors taking 24-hour retirement often resume a partner role but may occasionally return to their practice in a salaried capacity or as a locum. In this situation, a contract of employment or engagement must be agreed in advance of the 24-hour retirement. The retiring partner's interest in the partnership will end on his retirement date and the usual arrangements for a permanently retiring partner will need to be made in accordance with the partnership agreement or as otherwise negotiated between the partners.
Katharine Mellor is a corporate partner and head of healthcare at law firm DWF