NHS England has so far spent more than £21.5m on £20k ‘golden hello’ payments for new GP partners, Pulse has learned.
However, it has emerged that 43 applications have so far been rejected for being ‘ineligible’.
The golden handshake-style scheme was launched in July 2020 and offers a £20,000 payment as well as up to £3,000 as a training fund to support staff to transition to practice partnership.
The BMA told Pulse that in the 19 months between the scheme’s launch and the end of January 2022, 1,360 applicants were admitted to the scheme and over £21.5m was spent.
It added that 96% of successful applicants were GPs – with 1,308 GPs, 25 nurses, 20 pharmacists, 4 paramedics, 2 physician associates and one physiotherapist accepted.
But Pulse has also learned via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that NHS England has also clawed back some funds where partners’ ‘circumstances changed’.
Providing figures for the 18-month period from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2021, NHS England said the total value of all new-to-partnership grant payments was £19.7m.
It added that the figure had been rounded ‘due to slight variations in the numbers as top-ups and clawbacks are made where a partner’s circumstances change’.
And Pulse has also learned that NHS England has so far approved almost nine in 10 applications for the scheme.
According to the figures obtained by Pulse via FOI, NHS England had approved 1,295 applications to the scheme as of 17 January (87%) out of the 1,489 made since it launched.
When asked how many applicants had so far received the £20,000, NHS England said that it had received payment requests for 1,084 applicants by 17 January.
‘Requests are made once the contracts and financial agreements have been signed’, it added.
Of the 1,489 applications, NHS England said that:
- 89 required further detail before processing
- 57 are currently in progress
- 43 were rejected for being ‘ineligible’
- Five were withdrawn by the applicants
Of the 43 ‘ineligible’ applications, eight were due to the new partner having a ‘fixed-share’ role and 23 were due to partners having a ‘probation’ period prior to the scheme’s start date on 1 April 2020. Nine were because the applicant was deemed to have been a partner before April 2020.
Controversy over the eligibility rules
‘Fixed-share’ GP partners 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, 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.
The BMA told Pulse that any GPs who believe they have been wrongly denied the payment should reach out to it for support.
NHS England’s data also revealed that one applicant was rejected for having a non-clinical role, another was rejected for being part of a practice that is a limited company and another missed the application deadline.
NHS England said: ‘The missed deadline applicant related to a previously ineligible applicant.
‘In December, we reviewed the eligibility criteria and removed the six-month deadline to apply, all previously ineligible applicants were contacted and have now been processed, however, there is one applicant who has not responded and the team are still trying to contact.’
Meanwhile, the FOI request also revealed that no new partners have yet received any training funds to support their transition to practice partnership, with the first round of claims for payments to open this month.
NHS England said: ‘Claims for training bursaries are made to applicants one year after they receive their welcome letter onto the scheme, therefore the first round of claims and payments will be in February and March 2022.’
BMA England GP committee deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock told Pulse the scheme’s progress is ‘encouraging’ but that it ‘can do better’.
He said: ‘The New to Partnership scheme was part of NHSEI and DHSC’s commitment to the partnership model and we are glad that it is being taken up in such numbers. While we think progress has been encouraging, it can do better and we are keen to ensure this scheme encourages GPs to become partners.’
However, Dr Sharrock added that the Government ‘must do more to ensure we don’t lose partners at the same or greater rate as we gain them’.
He said: ‘We must ensure the partnership model is sustained and supported and the work environment becomes less pressured.
‘To achieve this, the Government must reduce bureaucracy and along with NHS England must trust partners to make decisions based on the needs of their patients and local population. That will not only make general practice a better place to work for existing partners, but will attract more GPs – something that is sorely needed.’
NHS England announced in December 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’.
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.