Should GPs worry about Directors’ Liability?
When we incorporate PCNs or GP practices, one of the most common questions from concerned GPs relates to the liability they might pick up if they become a director of the incorporated company. In this blog, we look at how real the risks are to company directors, and whether or not you need be concerned.
At a very basic level, it is worth remembering that liability is limited in companies but is unlimited in partnerships. So, if a partnership has assets of £60,000 and £100,000 of creditors, then the partners have personal liability for the shortfall. If a company has assets of £60,000 and £100,000 of liabilities, then the directors can liquidate the company, whereupon the £60,000 of assets are sold and the proceeds distributed to the creditors, leaving the creditors short by £40,000. In other words, in a partnership structure the partners lose out if there are insufficient assets, whereas in a company structure the creditors lose out. This is the very essence of limited liability and is why limited companies come with more onerous rules than unlimited partnerships.
In the above scenario, the shareholders of the company will have no liability: if shareholders could be liable for a company’s debts then neither stock exchanges nor pension funds would exist. Directors could theoretically have liability for some or all of the shortfall, but in practice this is extremely unlikely. However, the likelihood of a partner being held liable for the shortfall in a partnership is 100%.
Directors can incur personal liability to creditors in certain circumstances if the company is insolvent, but such liability only arises in situations which go beyond negligence and into the realms of recklessness or crime. One of those circumstances is fraud, which speaks for itself. The other is wrongful trading, which occurs when a company continues to trade when it has “no reasonable prospect” (which wording sets quite a high bar) of avoiding going into insolvent liquidation or insolvent administration. An example of this in a normal trading company might be continuing to take customer orders and customer money when there is no realistic chance of the orders being met because the company is insolvent. Again, the liability which a director would have in such circumstances is no greater than a partner of a partnership would have in identical circumstances, whilst the hurdles which a creditor would have to overcome to enforce a claim against the director would be considerably higher than in enforcing them against a partner.
By moving trading activity from a partnership of which you are a partner to a company of which you are a director, you are invariably reducing your risk of personal liability very significantly.
Breach of fiduciary duties
So what other liabilities might a company director be opening themselves up to? In law, there are seven fiduciary duties set out in statute:
- to act within powers;
- to promote the success of the company;
- to exercise independent judgment;
- to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence;
- to avoid conflicts of interest;
- not to accept benefits from third parties; and
- to declare any interest in a proposed transaction or arrangement with the company.
To a director who is familiar with these duties in the context of a partnership, these hardly seem onerous and, most significantly, the duties are owed to the company itself, rather than to third parties. It would be the company itself, either through a majority of directors or through minority shareholder action, that would have to sue a director for breach of fiduciary duties. Whilst this is conceivable in a large, listed company, in a small private company which is run and owned by the same people, and in which decisions are made by majority, it is hard to conceive of a situation whereby it might occur.
When it comes to clinical negligence, a company can be liable for the actions of a director, but it is rare for a director to be capable of being held liable for the actions of the company unless the director has themselves done something negligent, in which case the liability arises by virtue of the director’s action rather than by virtue of them being a director. Corporate manslaughter is an exception to this principle, but for a director to be liable in respect of corporate manslaughter it would have to be established that the way in which the activities of the company were managed or organised caused someone’s death and amounted to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to that person. Again, it is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of circumstances where a director of a company had more liability in identical circumstances than a partner of a partnership.
What steps can be taken to reduce the risk to directors?
A question we are often asked related to directors’ liability concerns directors’ and officers’ liability insurance (D&O Insurance). D&O Insurance first started to feature in the public awareness as a result of the various government-commissioned reports into corporate governance in the 1990s: the Cadbury Report, the Greenbury Report and the Hempel Report. These reports led to an increase in the number of non-executive directors being appointed by listed companies. As these non-executive directors usually had very limited supervisory roles, usually concerned with audit and director remuneration, but could potentially incur the same personal liability as ‘ordinary’ directors, they invariably insisted on companies taking out D&O Insurance on their behalf before they would accept appointments – simply by virtue of the enormous numbers involved in such companies. D&O Insurance in respect of a small private company, such as a PCN company or an incorporated GP practice, would be unusual as the directors invariably have a much greater understanding of the operations of a much simpler business. If however you are concerned about this residual directors liability you should speak with a specialist insurance broker about the risks more generally in primary care.
In summary, when you move trading activity from a partnership to a company you invariably end up reducing your potential personal liability. It is no surprise that well over three quarters of all businesses in the UK trade as limited companies, and the majority of the remainder trade as very small sole practitioners. Partnerships have their advantages, but reducing personal liability is not one of them.
If you have any questions on the topics covered in this blog or on any other legal issues, please contact Nils Christiansen on 01483 511555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Data Protection Officers – what’s the risk?
Every GP Practice in England and Wales should have a designated Data Protection Officer (‘DPO’) who is key to the practice being able to comply with its UK General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (‘GDPR’) duties. Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding about the importance of the DPO role, resulting in partners and separately, the DPO, taking on potentially significant regulatory and financial liability. In many practices, the DPO is seen as a secondary function that a partner, practice manager, or relatively junior member of staff can undertake in addition to their normal duties. In this blog, our data and information security solicitor, David Sinclair, identifies some of the key risks and some steps you can take to avoid them.
The role of the DPO
A DPO has significant, statutory data protection responsibilities that require them to possess requisite professional qualities and other abilities (not defined in the legislation), together with an ‘expert knowledge of data protection law and practices’. Given the complexity and ever-changing nature of UK data protection law, this is a significant burden to impose on any professional – even one with considerable information governance experience.
Unless otherwise expressly set out in the partnership agreement, partners are jointly and severally liable for GDPR compliance, including for formally appointing and adequately supporting a competent DPO, and for filing the DPO appointment with the ICO.
Partners bear the full statutory responsibility of ensuring that the DPO (whether a staff member or third party) has the experience, skills and knowledge to fulfil their DPO duties, as well as the required ongoing training, support and resources to enable them to carry out their role.
A DPO carries significant liability if a GDPR breach is attributed in whole or in part to a failure on their part to properly undertake their DPO duties. This is the case even when it can be shown that they perhaps did not have the necessary experience for the role and/or were not provided with adequate training to understand the GDPR’s requirements (many of which are poorly defined and open to interpretation), unless the DPO can demonstrate that they raised these issues with the practice at the earliest opportunity.
A common misconception among DPOs is that they have immunity from prosecution, dismissal, or other disciplinary action by virtue of their status as a DPO. This is not the case.
Article 38 of the GDPR provides DPOs with limited protection from dismissal or other penalty relating purely to the performance of their DPO tasks. In addition, DPOs cannot be personally liable for the partnership’s non-compliance with the GDPR, which remains with the partners.
Data protection law does not, however, protect DPOs who fail to undertake their statutory role or who do so negligently, eg by them failing to advise the partners, or them giving inaccurate advice, particularly where this is due to the DPO’s lack of competence and they failed to raise that with the practice.
Further, the GDPR does not prevent partners disciplining DPO employees (up to and including dismissal) under the terms of their employment contract, or from partners seeking to recover damages (in breach of contract and/or negligence) from external DPOs, whose failure to undertake their role results in a breach of data protection law.
So how can you minimise your liabilities?
Partners should undertake due diligence on a DPO’s competence and suitability to undertake their role. The practice must also provide the DPO with the resources and support they need to carry out their duties. We strongly advise partners to review their DPO appointment on a regular basis.
Existing DPOs and those considering taking on the role should give thought to whether they have the required training, experience, skills and knowledge to undertake the role. Particular consideration should be given to whether they can advise the practice competently and confidently on complex GDPR issues. Individuals who have doubts about their competence in this area should raise this with a partner as a priority.
For more information about GDPR, the role of the DPO or on information governance issues generally, please contact David Sinclair on 01483 511555 or by email to email@example.com.
GP Partnerships: So who do you think you are? Are you a self-employed Partner or are you an Employee?
Most GP practices continue to be organised as partnerships: an ‘independent contractor’ status which has outlived innumerable changes in the NHS. The ‘golden hello’ new to partnership scheme has attracted over 1,300 applicants over the last year, demonstrating that there are still plenty of people who aspire to becoming a partner in a GP practice. However, in an effort to keep up with the fast changing environment and to appeal to a broader range of partner candidates, many GP partnerships are looking at ways of flexing the traditional partner role, to the benefit of all concerned.
In this blog, we look at the 3 main types of partner we regularly encounter in GP practices.
1. Equity Partner (self-employed)
This is the most traditional partner model. Equity Partners are self-employed and have full and equal rights to decision making and are part of a collective management team which is jointly responsible for all aspects of running the practice. Profits and losses are shared equally, although sometimes there is a ‘path to parity’ over a period of a few years. With the rise of part-time working, a common variant is to share the profits and losses on the basis of planned sessions. Equity Partners are expected to contribute capital to the business (as a minimum working capital, but sometimes also property or other capital) which is usually called ‘buying in’. An Equity Partner is jointly and severally responsible for any losses and liabilities that arise in the partnership. This means that creditors can choose to pursue one or all of the partners for the full amount of the partnership debts.
2. Fixed Share Partner (self-employed)
Fixed Share Partners are also self-employed. A Fixed Share Partner typically receives a fixed, guaranteed income for a defined period of time (sometimes during a mutual assessment period) and there should also be an element of variable income based on the profits or losses of the practice. The ‘golden hello’ scheme does not apply to Fixed Share Partners where the fixed share period extends beyond the expiry of any mutual assessment period. Fixed Share Partners still share full liability alongside the Equity Partners so they ought to be suitably indemnified by the Equity Partners in the partnership deed. Fixed Share Partnership arrangements need to be carefully documented to avoid HMRC viewing the tax status of the person as an employee.
3. Salaried Partner (employed)
Salaried Partner and Fixed Share Partner are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. The key to this person’s status is in the word ‘salary’. Whereas partners take drawings on account of their profit share, Salaried Partners are employees who receive a salary. Salaried Partners should have an employment contract, they benefit from the protection of all relevant employment legislation and they receive a salary with tax and NI deducted at source under PAYE. Salaried Partners may have an element of ‘bonus’ depending on the profitability of the practice and this will be documented in their employment contract. Salaried Partners will not be a party to the partnership deed and they should have no share in the partnership profits and no voting rights. For a Salaried Partner, the word ‘partner’ is just a title and nothing more so they need to be suitably indemnified by the Equity Partners in their employment contract.
A word of warning…
Third parties can bring a claim against anyone who calls themselves a partner, be they an Equity, Fixed Share or Salaried Partner. So behind the scenes, Fixed Share and Salaried Partners are usually protected by way of an indemnity from the Equity Partners. An indemnity is a promise from the Equity Partners to financially compensate the Fixed Share or Salaried Partner in the event of a loss or liability arising. However, the indemnity will not be worth the paper it is written on unless the Equity Partners are good for the money.
If you are a GP practice or a partner or you are thinking about partnership and you want clarification on this blog or any other matter relating to primary care, then it’s time to contact us. Please call us on 01483 511555 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
FREE: DR Solicitors Covid Collaboration Agreement Template
As a small token of our appreciation for the commitment shown by everyone in primary care throughout the pandemic, we have produced a DR Solicitors Covid Collaboration Agreement template which is free to download here.
Our template is based on the NHS national template which many of you will already be familiar with, but with recommended amendments and guidance notes to assist when drafting. As with any template, you will still need to apply some thought when completing it, but this will hopefully enable more PCN Groupings to feel confident about completing their Covid Collaboration Agreement themselves.
We have sadly lost many GP clients to Covid during 2020, and they have of course left behind families and local communities who miss them greatly. We hope that by sharing some of our knowledge in this way we can play a small part in bringing this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible. Thank you to all of you from everyone at DR Solicitors.
The Covid-19 Vaccination Collaboration Agreement
The Covid-19 Vaccination Collaboration Agreement: Aim for Pragmatism not Perfection
The deadline for GP practices to commit to the Covid-19 Enhanced Service specification was midnight on 7 December. Signing up committed Practices to work together to deliver the vaccine in ‘PCN Groupings’, and to sign ‘Covid-19 Vaccination Collaboration Agreements’.
Covid-19 Collaboration Agreements must be signed by all member practices before administering the vaccine, so most PCN Groupings have less than a week to perform this next step.
NHS England has published a template Covid-19 Collaboration Agreement, but the document is 9000 words long and includes nine mostly blank Schedules for practices to complete.
Since the Covid-19 Collaboration Agreement will create a binding contract between practices it would normally be advisable to seek legal advice before signing it. But with over 1250 PCN Groupings across the country and less than a week to go this will be impractical for most. So what should practices do?
The key is to be pragmatic. There is not enough time to create a perfect contract, so focus on the most likely problem areas. These are money (Schedule 5), decision making (Schedule 7), and indemnities (Clauses 34-40 as well as Schedule 4.1 Clause 10).
Where a PCN Grouping has an identical membership to an existing Primary Care Network (PCN), it should be possible to leverage the current PCN governance and cross-refer the collaboration agreement to a well-drafted PCN Agreement. This will greatly simplify the process.
Where PCN Groupings are not identical to PCNs, or existing PCN governance is poor, it will be more difficult. These Groupings will essentially have to create a new PCN from scratch over the next few days, which is a near-impossible ask. These Groupings may simply have to ‘agree to agree’.
In the end the Covid-19 vaccine needs to be delivered regardless of any contractual niceties. You should obviously try to agree as much as you can this week, but focus on the most contentious points and write down whatever has been agreed. You may also want to expressly agree that you will revisit any contractual gaps once vaccination is underway, and set out the process for doing this.
With a little luck and goodwill, no Covid-19 Collaboration Agreement will ever be relied on in a dispute between the parties. Whilst contracts are important public health is vastly more so, and we are all hugely indebted to our primary care clients and everyone in our NHS for your enormous dedication and sacrifice through this difficult time. Thank you and good luck with administering the vaccine over the coming months.
If you would like to discuss any particular concerns regarding the Covid-19 Collaboration Agreement, then please don’t hesitate to contact Daphne Robertson at email@example.com or call 01483 511555.
Healthcare Professionals: be careful what you indemnify
Healthcare Professionals – be careful what you indemnify
With the increase in collaborative working and working at scale it is becoming common for the owners of a primary care practice to be asked to provide indemnities, say in a sale or purchase contract or in a merger agreement. But what does giving an indemnity actually mean, and what are the risks to you?
What is an indemnity?
An indemnity contract arises when one person takes on the obligation to pay for any loss or damage that has been, or might be, incurred by another person. It is therefore a promise to make a future payment.
Why might you be asked to give one?
Over the centuries the English Courts have developed common law rules for assessing liability for breach of contract. These rules attempt to strike a fair balance between the interests of the party in breach and the party which is the victim of the breach. The factors which determine such balance include remoteness of causation, foreseeability of loss and mitigation of loss. By asking you to give an indemnity, the other party is attempting to move the balance in their favour.
A 1996 judgement by Lord Hoffman explains the difference in assessment of damages by common law rules and by indemnities:
“A mountaineer about to undertake a difficult climb is concerned about the fitness of his knee. He goes to a doctor who negligently makes a superficial examination and pronounces the knee fit. The climber goes on the expedition, which he would not have undertaken if the doctor had told him the true state of his knee. He suffers an injury which is an entirely foreseeable consequence of mountaineering but has nothing to do with his knee.”
Using the Court’s common law rules for assessing liability, there would have been no liability against the doctor because, although they were negligent, the negligence hadn’t been a factor in the subsequent injury, which was caused by a mountaineering incident unrelated to the knee problem.
If there had been an indemnity in place the Courts might well have found the doctor liable not only for the injury but also for the costs of the expedition, the rescue and all the medical treatment. This is because if the doctor had made the correct diagnosis the mountaineer would never have gone on the expedition in the first place, and therefore wouldn’t have suffered the subsequent injury, paid for the expedition or needed to be rescued.
So should indemnities ever be accepted?
There are certain areas where they’ve generally become accepted by lawyers as being appropriate – such as in a Practice merger and relating to TUPE transfers. Typically, the disposing practice agrees to indemnify the acquiring practice for any employment claims arising during the period before the transfer.
Legal advice should always be sought before binding yourself into an indemnity. A good solicitor would review the wording of the indemnity to ensure it is not unduly onerous. For example, in the case of TUPE transfers, an indemnifying practice should retain the right to defend and settle the claim itself, rather than simply committing to pay whatever is being asked of them by the other party.
Negotiation of contracts generally has little to do with what’s fair or unfair and much more to do with the negotiating strength of the parties. Often any party of whom an indemnity is requested is in such a weak bargaining position that they find it difficult to resist the request.
Although it’s easier said than done, it’s always better to negotiate from a position of strength. In the context specifically of GP practice mergers, if you can see a time in the next few years when it’s going to be necessary to find someone to take over your practice, do it sooner rather than later and try to keep a ‘Plan B’ in the background throughout.
If you have any questions about indemnities or any other queries relating the running of your primary care practice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our specialist team of expert solicitors. Please call 01483 511555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Retaining your property share after retirement
Continuing our series of blogs on property issues upon retirement, this blog is for you if you intend to retain your share in the premises after retirement, whilst other part-owners of the surgery continue in the practice.
This is a scenario that we are seeing more frequently, as fewer incoming partners are willing and/or able to buy-in to the premises. Whether it is your preference to retain your share in the premises or whether it is something you have agreed to do for a period after retirement to help out your former Practice, the points you should be considering are the same:
- Check if you can you hold onto your property share
Check the terms of your Partnership Deed and any other relevant business documentation relating to ownership of the surgery, such as a Declaration of Trust. These documents will set out what should happen with your property interest upon your retirement. Many Partnerships take the view that a retiring partner should be obliged to sell their share in the surgery to the continuing partners, who in turn will be obliged to buy the share, often within a set timeframe.
Of course, what was agreed a few years’ ago in a Partnership Deed or Declaration of Trust down may not, in practice, be feasible now. However, any change to the position set out in the Partnership Deed or Declaration of Trust usually requires unanimity, so if you are thinking about deviating from the agreed position then you should be having early conversations with the continuing partners.
- Think about the tax and mortgage consequences
Whilst you are a partner, the premises are likely to be a partnership asset (your accountant will confirm if this is the case) and there are a number of tax benefits that follow. If you leave the partnership and retain your share in the premises, you will likely change the status of your property share which could have a significant impact on some tax reliefs you’ve been benefitting from, and in some circumstances could trigger additional tax liabilities such as a payment of Stamp Duty Land Tax. You should have an early conversation with your accountant to make sure you understand the impact of holding onto your share of the property on your individual tax affairs.
If the property is mortgaged you should also check the position with your bank, since many mortgages are based on the premise that the building is wholly a partnership asset. Moving a share of the building out of the partnership may be a breach of the terms of the loan.
- Protect your property income following retirement
Once you leave the partnership you will no longer be entitled to any property income that the partnership receives from NHSE England. You will therefore need to agree with all the continuing partners (both property owning partners and non-property owning partners) that your share of any surgery income is passed to you, and make sure you have legally binding contractual arrangement in place to back up this agreement. There are two main ways of doing this:
- put a lease in place: the property owners (you and the other continuing property owning partners) will, as landlord, grant a lease to the partnership, as tenant. As a landlord, you will have rights to the rental income under the lease. You can read more about putting a lease in place here
- put a Declaration of Trust in place: this document will set out the ownership arrangements between all the co-owners. Importantly, whilst at least one of the co-owners continues as a partner in the medical partnership, you can agree that they will ensure that the surgery premises income is paid from the partnership to the other property owners.
Whether you go for the Lease or the Declaration of Trust option will depend on a number of factors including: tax treatment; how long any continuing property owning partners are likely to stay in the partnership; whether the premises are charged to a bank; what sort of lease terms would you be able to agree and what will the CCG support? These are all matters which should be considered in detail before you retire, since your negotiating position is considerably more difficult after you have already retired.
Our next blog looks at the scenario of a retiring partner who wishes to sell the surgery premises, either to his former partners or to a third party.
We advise that all property owning partners need to start thinking about their property plans at least 2 years prior to their date of retirement. If you are considering retirement and would like to discuss your options in more detail then please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email@example.com
Due Diligence and Disclosure – A Guide for Healthcare Professionals
If you are thinking of acquiring, merging with or disposing of a primary care practice, then this blog is for you.
Firstly, let’s look at two scenarios. When a patient attends an appointment with his GP, the GP will probably ask a series of questions, conduct a physical examination and review the patient’s medical record. Likewise, when buying a house – you will engage a solicitor to make some pre-contract enquiries, to carry out some property searches at the Local Authority and Land Registry, and you will probably instruct a surveyor to check that the building is sound.
When acquiring a GP practice, there is no analogous method for carrying out a physical examination or survey. Similarly there are no publicly available records in relation to partnerships (and information is scant even for companies). Accordingly, the only effective option for investigating a GP practice which you may be interested in acquiring or joining, is by asking a series of questions of its owner. These questions come in the form of a comprehensive due diligence questionnaire – essentially a checklist – covering the commercial, financial, regulatory and legal aspects of the business. The answers to those questions are critical as they form the only x-rays of the target business that a buyer sees.
Just as x-rays are only as good as the ability of the people taking them and as useful as the knowledge of the people examining the results, due diligence is only as good as the questions asked and the understanding of the people reviewing the answers. Lawyers will have comprehensive due diligence questionnaires; those supplied by accountants tend to focus on finance and therefore may be less comprehensive. Prudent buyers will review the answers received themselves and also have their lawyer and accountant review them.
Just as the occasional patient might be less than honest with a doctor in an effort to obtain a particular prescription, business owners have been known to be economical with the truth when answering due diligence enquiries. A problem arises in this regard for buyers, because a peculiarity of the English law of misrepresentation means that a buyer probably cannot place legal reliance on the answers to due diligence enquiries. So why bother with it at all?
Fortunately, to overcome the problem, a buyer’s solicitor will ask the seller to give a series of warranties to the buyer concerning the state of the target business. Breach of those warranties is directly actionable in law and therefore avoids the legal problems related to misrepresentation claims. Warranties are a comprehensive series of statements about the business included in a business transfer agreement prepared by the buyer’s lawyer.
Why then do lawyers not proceed directly to warranties and cut out the due diligence enquiries altogether? Making due diligence enquiries and reviewing the answers is a relatively inexpensive process conducted at the outset of the transaction and therefore, with honest sellers at least, it flushes out any potential problems with a business cheaply and early on in the process.
Warranties differ slightly from guarantees and are essentially a checklist in the form of statements that could be made unqualified in relation to a (mythical) flawless business. To the extent that there are exceptions to the warranties the seller needs to reveal them to the buyer in a disclosure letter. This process is best illustrated by an example.
A warranty that is typically included in a business acquisition is one to the effect that the business is not currently a party to any litigation. If the business is, in fact, in the middle of a court case then the seller needs to disclose that information to the buyer in a disclosure letter, setting out the full facts of the case (dates, parties, nature of claims, nature of defences etc) and attaching copies of the relevant documentation. If the seller fails to make this disclosure then she will be giving an unqualified warranty to the buyer that the business is not involved in any litigation. Because that warranty will be untrue, it will be actionable in law by the buyer. There is therefore a considerable onus on sellers to make full and proper disclosure for fear of otherwise leaving themselves open to legal action. Warranties therefore force sellers to reveal in disclosure letters matters that they might have preferred to leave hidden and which they may not have revealed in response to due diligence enquiries.
In a well-managed transaction nothing will emerge in the disclosure letter that wasn’t already revealed in the answers to due diligence enquiries. There is therefore considerable overlap between due diligence and disclosure, leading many people to conflate the two. This is a mistake, as they are entirely different processes. Due diligence enquiries and answers are essentially an information-gathering process from which few adverse consequences can befall a seller. Warranties and disclosures, on the other hand, form the main protection available to a buyer so that she knows what she is buying ‘warts and all’ and forces the seller, on pain of legal action, to reveal all instances of human papillomavirus infecting her business. As with all documents which you may one day need to rely on in court, you would be well advised to speak to a specialist solicitor before signing any warranties and indemnities!
If you are thinking of acquiring, joining or merging with a practice and would like a free consultation with one of our experienced healthcare solicitors, then please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Protecting your investment upon Retirement
If you are a property owning partner who plans to retire and keep your premises as an investment, allowing the practice to continue to run from them, then this blog is for you. We will be looking at some other variations of premises ownership and retirement, in future blogs.
There are many things to consider when you retire, not least being what will happen to what is probably your biggest investment – the surgery building. Here are some of the main considerations:
1. Whilst you have been practising from the surgery, you will have been receiving notional rent under the Premises Costs Directions 2013 (”PCDs”). Entitlement to the notional rent payment arises solely as a result of the partnership holding a ‘core contract’ with NHSE/the CCG and carrying out the services from owner occupied premises.
Following your retirement from the partnership, you are no longer a contract holder and so you lose any entitlement to notional rent. It is the continuing partners who hold the contract and they will become entitled to reimbursement of premises costs under the PCDs.
2. Before retirement, you may have relied on the Partnership Deed to protect your premises income and to identify those property-associated costs which were to be paid by you, as property owner, and those to be paid by the practice, as business occupation costs.
At the point you retire, you are no longer a party to the Partnership Deed so you need to put a new legal arrangement in place to ensure that have your property interest adequately protected. The way to do this is to put a lease in place.
3. A lease will set out the obligations on both you, as Landlord, and the Practice, as Tenant, in resect of the property, as well as protecting both parties’ interests from a legal perspective. The lease may include provision for the repair and maintenance of the building; the length of occupation and any rights of early termination; what costs each party is responsible for and what changes can be made to the property with or without your permission.
There are many factors to consider when deciding what the terms of the lease will be. How long should it last for? What will happen at the end of the lease term – will you be happy for the tenant to have a new lease? Who is to be responsible for the various elements of the building that may need to be repaired over time? These factors, along with others, will need to be thought through in advance of your retirement.
It is important that you take specialist advice from solicitors experienced in dealing with NHS surgery leases, as if you do not have the correct provisions in the lease you risk it not being approved for funding from the CCG.
4. Timing is very important. If you don’t put the lease in place prior to the date of your retirement, you run the risk of the medical practice accruing protected tenancy rights once you leave the partnership. It can also help your negotiating position if you are able to agree terms whilst you are still a partner in the business. Crucially, any lease terms will need to be approved by the CCG in order to guarantee rent reimbursement, which can take a considerable period of time. If you have a mortgage secured over the surgery premises, you will also need your lender’s consent to the granting of the lease.
Our next blog looks at the scenario of a retiring partner who owns a share of the surgery premises along with others who will be continuing in partnership, and the retiring partner wishes to retain his or her share in the premises. This is a scenario that we are seeing more of, as fewer incoming partners are looking to buy-in to premises.
We advise that GP partners start thinking about their property plans at least 2 years prior to their planned retirement date. If you are considering retirement and would like to discuss your options in more detail then please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 51555 or email@example.com
Tips on successful recruitment of new partners
Some factors which affect your ability to attract new partners and are outside of your control, such as locality; housing; access to good schools; public transport etc, but there are many things you can control. Prospective new partners will always undertake some form of assessment of your practice, and you can take steps to help ensure your partnership stands out from the crowd.
Prospective partners will want to be sure that they’re joining a well managed and financially viable partnership. You can evidence this early in negotiations by providing a ‘due diligence pack’ including:
- Partnership Agreement. Ensure your partnership agreement is up to date and fit for purpose (our free checklist will help you);
- Property documents. If the premises are freehold and owned by some or all of the partners, include the Title documents and the agreement by which the partnership can occupy the premises (this may be in the Partnership Deed or a separate licence or Declaration of Trust). Also, check the Title documents are not still in the names of retired/bought out former-partners. If you are a tenant in leasehold premises, include a copy of the lease and check that it has been properly assigned and that you are compliant with it. Document any issues.
- Contracts: Include a copy of your GMS/PMS contract as well as any another key sources of practice income such as public health or network contracts Partnership accounts for the last 3 years. Include an explanation of key movements
- Disputes and contingent liabilities: Prepare a list of known potential liabilities, such as service charge disputes with your landlord, employee disputes, patient complaints etc, and explain what you are doing to mitigate them. Every practice has a few ‘issues’ and it is much better to be upfront about these rather than pretending they don’t exist and risk a partnership dispute later.
- Regulatory Reports. Include the latest CQC report as well as any relevant correspondence from NHSE or indeed the GMC
Just make sure that your prospective recruit has signed up to your confidentiality agreement before you provide him or her with the due diligence pack!
Many new GP partners are reluctant to invest significant capital when they are already saddled with student debt, mortgages and other financial commitments. Having a realistic expectation as to what they can afford to invest into the business is important. If you oblige new partners to buy into the surgery or commit large sums of working capital on or near admission, you will inevitably put some good candidates off.
It is often a good idea to invite a potential partner to talk through the Partnership accounts with your accountant. The accountant can produce forecasts of their likely future income which will also help to build their confidence in you.
In the end, most partners join a new practice because they feel there is a ‘good fit’. Due diligence and other checks are really just ways to confirm a preliminary decision that has already been made based on gut instinct. Many people regard this as outside of their control, but it can be managed. The trick is to have a clear culture in the practice and ensure everyone subscribes to it. Could you succinctly describe the culture in your practice? Would the receptionist describe it in the same way? Would the patients also recognise it? Think about promoting your own ‘vision & culture’ statement. Articulating the culture you are aiming to achieve will help the business deliver it. The culture will be different for each practice and it can be supported by policies. Importantly it should apply from the most junior employees to the most senior of partners, but if everyone clearly works towards the same culture there is a much greater chance that you will attract someone else who ‘fits’.
Being prepared before you start the recruitment process can save you many hours of valuable management time when speaking with potential new partners, as well as putting your practice in a strong position to attract the best available candidates. We can provide assistance in assessing the health of your business documents, and a strategy to mitigate any potential problem areas so please do get in touch with one of our experts.
Remember that you need to ‘sell’ the practice just as much as potential new recruits need to sell themselves.
For further information, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555, firstname.lastname@example.org