GP Contract Handback

Many GP practices are becoming underwhelmed with the NHS and the landscape of general practice. This been caused by a number of issues including lack of succession planning, changes to NHS budgets and reviews of structures within the NHS. Whilst a large number of GPs are embracing the significant changes within general practice and primary care a number of you are considering whether to continue with the upward struggles they are faced with.

In light of this, we are now seeing an increase in the number of practices who are handing back their contracts to NHS England and closing their doors. From my perspective, having been involved with GPs for over 15 years this is a sad chain of events. However, we are here to help and support you as much as we can.

It seems to be that a number of GPs seem to view handing back their contract is a relatively straightforward and easy process, even though there are significant possible liabilities and responsibilities in doing so.

The utopia presented by NHS England that the contract will be re-tendered and taken up by another provider is very tempting. We have had a number of instances where practices have failed to obtain legal advice prior to handing back the contract and have run into significant difficulties and are faced with financial issues.

Would always recommend that you seek both advice from your lawyer and your accountant prior to embarking on such a big decision. This even in the case where a clear handover of your contract seems to be achievable from your discussions with NHS England.

Often in our conversations with GPs we first explore the possibility of merging with a local practice and whether that would achieve some comfort in the first instance.

If that does not seem practical or possible then handing back the contract is a real possibility, but only if done within the right framework.

Before handing back your contract we suggest that you review the potential liabilities you will face as a partnership in the event that something does arise. It is of great importance that you review your partnership agreement to see what the implications of the dissolution of the partnership would be. You also need to consider what the redundancy costs of the closure of the practice might be as the partnership will be responsible for these. Such costs would apply to salaried clinicians as well and could be significant, especially if your staff have long periods of service. Although, if a third party practice ends up taking the contract on, the employees will likely transfer on their current terms and conditions of employment to that new provider, if the contract is re-tendered by NHS England in a different form, this might not always be the case and you may not be released from all liabilities in this respect.

Even if employees are transferred the liabilities the partnership will not be transferred to the new provider. This includes matters such as service charge and any monies owed to 3rd parties.

Your accountant and legal team should be able to provide you with an assessment of what those liabilities are to enable you to make an informed choice.

Amanda Maskery is a Partner at Sintons and a specialist healthcare lawyer. Contact her on or 0191 226 7838.

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