Our Team


Will you or your practice be impacted by the MDU policy changes?

The Secretary of State recently announced some planned changes to the medical indemnity scheme. The plans are still in the early stages and not expected to be implemented for at least 12 to 18 months, but it seems clear that the state will be playing a larger role in medical defence insurance in future, which should hopefully assist in controlling the spiralling costs.

In response, the MDU announced that it will move from an occurrence based policy to a claims-made policy. Their rationale for doing so was to reduce the cost of the premium. It is not yet clear whether other insurers will follow MDU’s lead.

To understand the consequences of the MDU’s announcement, it is necessary to be clear on the difference between the two policy types:

An occurrence policy protects you from any covered incident that occurs during the policy period, regardless of when a claim is filed – even if this is after the policy has been cancelled. This means that when you retire, you can do so safe in the knowledge that if a problem should ever arise from your time in practice, you will be covered. It also makes it easier to switch insurers, because a new insurer does not need to concern themselves with the risk associated with events that happened previously: they just need to understand where and how you will be practising in future.

A claims-made policy protects you from any covered incident that is claimed for whilst the policy is in force, regardless of when the actual incident occurred. When you stop paying the premium the cover stops, even if the incident occurred whilst the policy was in force. This means that when you retire (and stop paying your insurance premiums), you are not covered for any claims that may arise relating to your time in practice unless you buy “run-off” insurance. Such cover can be expensive, so make certain you understand how the premium will be calculated before signing up to the policy.

Switching from an occurrence policy to a claims-made policy is likely to save you money in the short term, since the occurrence policy will cover everything arising from the past, and an incident would have to both occur and a claim be made in the first year of the new claims-made policy for it to be covered. However, this ‘saving’ will likely catch up with you when you need to buy run-off cover to retire or move back to occurrence based insurance. The Government has stated that they do not currently plan to offer run-off cover in the state-backed scheme.

If you are considering taking out claims-made insurance, here are some things you should consider:

  1. Firstly (and most obviously) don’t let your existing professional indemnity insurance lapse until the new scheme is active and you have the policy in place.
  2. Look at your partnership deed – it may prohibit you from taking out claims-made insurance, and even if it is not prohibited, it probably doesn’t explain how to deal with the risks of a claims-made policy and in particular the risk that a retiring partner doesn’t buy adequate run-off cover. It is difficult to ensure a retired partner maintains run-off cover once they have left the partnership, which leaves the remaining partners at a risk of picking up residual liability in the unfortunate event of a claim being made (see our recent article on joint and several liability).
  3. Check the status of any clinical employees and sub-contractors – are they expecting to be covered by the practice’s medical defence insurance? They will most likely want to reassure themselves that they are covered for all their actions whilst employed, regardless of when a claim is received. This will need to be set out in employment contracts and locum agreements.
  4. If you’re considering merging with another practice, you will be well advised to investigate the type of insurance policies which have been and currently are in place, since claims-made policies will enable the risk to transfer from one practice to another. This is likely to significantly increase the amount of due diligence that practices should undertake before considering a merger.

Our recommendations:

For more information, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email d.robertson@drsolicitors.com

  • Discuss with insurance brokers whether there are opportunities for remaining within an occurrence-based insurance scheme until any government alternative is avalable
  • If you are considering moving to a claims-based policy, seek legal advice on how this will impact your partnership agreement, employment contracts and other key contracts.
  • If you do decide to stay on an occurrence-based scheme, then you should ideally ensure that all partners are obliged to do the same We would recommend seeking the help of specialist, professional advisers to help you navigate the changes to the medical indemnity scheme.
Our Team


Can a GP practice have limited liability?

As Primary Care changes, we are frequently asked about different business vehicles and in particular whether a GP practice can have limited liability. Choosing the right type of business vehicle for your GP practice is not always straightforward, and managing risk is likely to factor highly in the decision making process.In this article we look at the issue in more detail, explaining the different business vehicles and their potential implications.

Unlimited liability partnership

Most GP practices currently operate as unlimited liability partnerships. This means partners are “jointly and severally” liable in the case of any financial problems. Creditors and other litigants are free to sue all the partners in the partnership to recover their losses, regardless of who caused the problem. What is more, each partner is liable up to the value of the whole of the debt. This means that creditors are able to look to the personal assets of all of the partners until the debt is settled in full or there are no personal assets left. Although your partnership deed will specify how you share profits and losses between you, your creditors will have no regard to this and will typically simply look to find ‘the deepest pockets’.

Although unlimited joint and several liability can be a frightening concept, it has historically not been a major concern for GP Practices since the clinical negligence risks are mostly insured against. However, as practices have become larger and more complex, other risks have become important and need managing or protecting against.

Limited Liability Company (Ltd)

A limited company is the vehicle of choice for most businesses in the UK. A limited company is managed by directors and owned by shareholders. If a limited liability company is unable to pay it’s debts, it becomes insolvent. Creditors are not normally able to ask the shareholders or directors to contribute to losses, so liability is limited to the capital which the shareholders have introduced to the company, plus any other assets (such as retained profits) the company might hold. Importantly, the personal assets of shareholders and directors and generally protected from creditors.

GP practices are, in principle, able to operate as limited companies. However, the consent of NHS England is required to move the GMS or PMS contract to a limited company and they have historically been reluctant to agree. There are also regulatory restrictions about who can own a company delivering GMS or PMS services, which will need to be secured in the Company Constitution. Moving a practice from an unlimited liability partnership to a limited company is not a straightforward process, so anyone thinking of going down this route should always seek specialist legal advice first.

Another way limited companies can be used is to manage the largest risks in the partnership. For example, the surgery could be held in a limited company, while the practice is kept as an unlimited liability partnership. This is a reasonably common model for practices to adopt.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

An LLP is an alternative legal structure that is commonly used by professional services firms, such as accountants and solicitors. It enables a business to operate with a partnership structure (where ownership and management are one and the same), whilst limiting the liability of the partners and protecting their personal assets. As with a limited company, it is a matter of public record how much capital each of the partners have put at risk.

We are often asked about LLPs since they superficially appear to be an obvious solution for GP practices, but they are unfortunately not permitted business vehicles for GMS or PMS contractors. If a practice were to be set up as an LLP, it would put these contracts, staff pensions, and much more at serious risk.

Other options for managing liability:


One route partners may take to gain greater protection for their personal assets, is the purchase of specialist insurance. All NHS GPs are obliged to take out professional indemnity insurance against one of their biggest risks – professional negligence claims. The same approach can be taken to other risks to the financial wellbeing of the practice as well. Possible examples include life insurance, key man insurance, or mortgage repayment insurance.


As discussed above, to the outside world all partners are jointly and severally liable for the losses of the partnership. This can, of course , seem quite unfair so it is reasonably common for Partnership Deeds to provide that partners are responsible for the consequences of their own negligent or unapproved actions. These clauses are called ‘indemnities’.

Whilst fine in theory, the obvious problem with this approach is that if the individual concerned runs out of money, the other partners will still be exposed to the remaining debt. Also, it is often difficult to link a loss directly to the negligent actions of a single individual. More commonly, a problem is a result of a series of unfortunate events, where several people could have intervened, but failed to do so.

Our recommendations

Sadly, there isn’t a single, simple solution when it comes to managing liability in a GP practice. All the options we have detailed come with their own difficulties, and we are conscious that as healthcare becomes more ‘commercial’ it is also becoming more risky commercially.

We would always recommend seeking professional accounting and legal advice before making any decisions, to ensure you understand the full implications of the options which are available to you. The ‘right’ answer for your practice will depend on your individual circumstances and your appetite for risk.

For more information, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email d.robertson@drsolicitors.com

Our Team


Can a partner work outside of the practice?

The question of whether a GP partner can work outside of his or her practice, and under what constraints, is a common one. A survey by Pulse reveals GP partners have seen their pay drop by an average of 4%, so topping up earnings with private work can be an appealing option.

Typical scenarios include:

  • A part time partner who wishes to work elsewhere in their remaining sessions
  • A full time partner who wishes to work elsewhere during their annual leave

If you have a Partnership Deed

For practices with a Partnership Deed, it should clearly state what the agreed rules are, along with all associated obligations and restrictions. It should also make clear the implications of breaching such obligations, for example potential financial penalties and what may ultimately be grounds for expulsion.

A well drafted deed should include:

  1. A clause requiring that the partners need to give their approval for any outside work to take place
  2. Limitations on any such work, including the number of hours that can be done, the location, the type of work, etc
  3. The need to pool any unapproved outside income
  4. The need for any partner working elsewhere to pay back a proportion of their medical defence cover
  5. An obligation to act in the best interests of the partnership at all times

One area that can cause some confusion is when senior employees are called ‘partners’ – one example being a ‘salaried partner’. In these instances, you will need to refer back to the individual’s employment contract. (You can read more about the differences between a salaried and fixed share partner here – Salaried vs Fixed Share Partners).

What happens if you bend the rules?

Another area where partnerships can sometimes run into problems is when they have previously allowed partners to work elsewhere in breach of the Partnership Deed. In these cases, it is unlikely that these clauses can then be relied upon in the future.

The practice may be deemed to have varied the deed and it would be wise to seek legal advice on how best to move forward.

If you don’t have a Partnership Deed

If no deed is in place, then the answer falls to the 1890 Partnership Act. While the act itself has little to say on the subject of working outside of the practice, it does state that partners cannot compete with the partnership and must act in good faith at all times.

It is unlikely that these obligations would be breached by a moonlighting partner but it would need to be judged on a case by case basis. It would also be very difficult and expensive to try to enforce these obligations.

Our recommendations

The best protection for your business will always be to have a Partnership Deed in place that you can rely on and which clearly sets out all obligations and sanctions. If you don’t have a deed, or it is lacking, or out of date, then seek the advice of an experienced legal team.

For more information, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email d.robertson@drsolicitors.com