Most of our readers will be familiar with the concept of 24 hour retirement and that to be eligible, you need to leave the NHS for 24 hours. For a GP partner, this means resigning from the partnership for 24 hours. Single handers need to go into partnership with another eligible person and transfer their core contract, giving 28 days’ notice to NHS England. Salaried GPs need to terminate their contract of employment for 24 hours.
All of the above carry a certain degree of risk. Not being re-admitted into the Partnership, your core contract not being transferred back and contracts of employment being terminated are all possible outcomes that will keep you awake at night. Whilst the risk can be managed by having robust legal documentation drawn up and entered into before you take 24 hour retirement, it is still an arrangement that requires forward planning and cooperation from others.
The good news is that from 1 October 2023, there is a new option for some members called partial retirement, also known as drawdown.
What is partial retirement?
Partial retirement is already available to members with 2008 Section and 2015 Scheme benefits but now it also applies to members with 1995 Section benefits. Many people looking to retire now will be members of the 1995 Section, so this is of particular relevance to them.
NHS Pensions say that members aged 55 and over can choose to take part or all of their pension benefits in monthly amounts whilst continuing in NHS employment, without having to leave the NHS for 24 hours. Instead, you need to reduce your pensionable pay by 10%.
For GP Partners and single handers, that is interpreted as reducing hours by 10%. For a GP working 10 sessions a week, this means they will need to drop a session. The reduced hours must continue for at least 12 months. Salaried GPs will need to take a 10% cut in pensionable pay for a similar term.
Obviously there are restrictions on what is available to each individual. There’s a minimum age for triggering partial retirement and it’s also restricted if taken below normal retirement age. You must be an active member of the NHS Pension Scheme and not have opted out.
Things to consider
It is very hard to predict how and when any of us may want to retire, so the key is to keep your options open. GP Partners will want to ensure that they have the option to take either 24 hour and/or partial retirement and this is best documented in the Partnership Deed. It should include a right to trigger 24 hour retirement and a right to be re-admitted into the Partnership afterwards; also a right to trigger partial retirement and reduce working hours, whilst setting out the impact on profit shares for doing so.
Single handers will want to decide whether they can accept the financial and operational implications of partial retirement, but if they want to do this then there is no longer any need to transfer their core contract for 24 hours by entering into a fixed term partnership and can instead reduce their hours and hire a locum or salaried GP to cover the reduced sessions. This may well be a more attractive option for single handers than 24 hour retirement.
Employees should check their employment contract and if necessary, start a conversation with employers about how they might support their plans.
How we can help
Your partnership deed needs to make clear whether these retirement options are available to you. Simply send your Partnership Deed to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will carry out a *free health check* to see if both 24 hour retirement and partial retirement are covered, and whether it is generally fit for purpose.
If you prefer to have a free initial consultation about your retirement plans or any other legal issues, please telephone 01483 511555 or email email@example.com
DR Solicitors does not provide pensions or financial advice and we encourage you to seek independent advice from an IFA before making any decisions with regards to your pension.
With the threat of cyber-attacks on the rise, coupled with a quickly evolving policy landscape when it comes to GDPR, data protection and information security, our Information Law Solicitor, David Sinclair, discusses with Ockham Healthcare what practices should be doing now to ready themselves, who should take responsibility for this critical area of work, and what to expect going forwards.
The long running saga of the 5 NHSPS ‘test cases’ regarding service charges has reached a conclusion. The case has been much hyped by all parties, to the extent that it was named as one of the ‘top 20 litigation cases of 2022’ by one excited journalist. Many practices in NHSPS buildings have been waiting for the outcome of the case, in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of their problems with disputed service charges. In the event, the case has proved less useful than many had hoped. The judge has made clear that he does not consider it to be a test case, and that each dispute will turn on its own facts. In essence, the judge concluded that a tenancy is a contract, and that each practice is therefore bound by the particular agreed or implied terms of their occupation. What is perhaps most surprising, is that this outcome should come as a surprise to anyone.
This rather complicated litigation started when the BMA sought to bring an action on behalf of 5 practices who were tenants in various NHSPS properties, asking the Court to confirm that certain standard policies operated by NHSPS to calculate service charges had not been incorporated into the terms of the tenancies. The court refused to make a declaration to this effect, but NHSPS admitted that they could not simply change the terms of a tenancy to include the policies and a ‘victory’ of sorts was declared. This was however short-lived as NHSPS took the opportunity to countersue the 5 practices for arrears of service charges. It is this counterclaim which has now been determined. NHSPS was seeking over £1m in overdue service charges from the 5 ‘test case’ practices and claims that it is, in total, owed over £175m by its GP tenants. It is clear that very significant sums are at stake.
The facts of each of the 5 tenancies are subtly different, which was undoubtedly why they were chosen for the BMA as a ‘test case’. The main thing they have in common is a general lack of documentation and rigour around any of the normal legal processes. As a result the judge had to untangle a complex web of poorly documented issues relating to each building, including: What demise does the practice actually occupy now and in the past? Which partners have been/are tenants and are therefore liable? What are the terms of occupation? What services have been, and should have been, provided by NHSPS? To what extent did payments made represent an ‘all-inclusive rent’? Were service charges capped or in some other way limited by agreement, including by historic agreement with a PCT? Are any of the claims time-barred?
Probably the most important message from the judgement is that as an ordinary landlord, NHSPS has the right to recover a reasonable service charge for the services which it delivers. None of the practices were able to successfully argue that they should be receiving discounted or free services from their landlord, or that their rent was somehow ‘all-inclusive’. That is not to say that other practices cannot succeed with such an argument, but it would require solid evidence that such an agreement existed rather than simply relying on an absence of evidence. In the words of the judgment: “the law, where appropriate, has to step in and fill the gaps in a way which is sensible and reasonable. The law will imply, from what was agreed and all the surrounding circumstances, the terms the parties are to be taken to have intended to apply”.
The judgment did not determine how much of the £1m claimed from the 5 ‘test cases’ was actually recoverable, but it did set out the parameters by which the amount payable should be calculated. It is thus clear that the 5 practices have a significant service charge liability to NHSPS. However the judge went out of his way to make clear this cannot be seen as a precedent for other practices:
“There has been some reference to these five actions as test cases for other disputes over service charges which may arise between the Defendant and other GP practices. While I express the hope that this judgment will assist the Defendant and other GP practices in resolving disputes over services charges without the need for expensive litigation, I would be wary of classifying these five actions as test cases. As this lengthy judgment demonstrates, and as I have already said in this judgment, the resolution of a service charge dispute in any particular case essentially depends upon the evidence and arguments in that case. This is one of the principal reasons why, for reasons which I have endeavoured to explain in making my decision on whether the Charging Policy Declarations should be made, I do not think that it is sensible for any GP practice to adopt what I would describe as a policy of non-engagement; by which I mean refusing to pay service charges pending explanation of the position by the Defendant. As I have said, it seems to me that a more constructive approach would be for GP practices to take their own advice on the position, and to put their particular case to the Defendant on what is and is not recoverable by way of service charges.”
What, therefore, should practices facing NHSPS service charge disputes do now?
1) Don’t ignore the problem as it is very unlikely to just ‘go away’. Having now proven that there is no blanket ‘NHS exemption’ to paying service charges, it would be surprising if NHSPS simply wrote off the £175m it believes it is owed.
2) You should be paying a reasonable amount for the services that you receive from NHSPS, unless you can clearly demonstrate an agreement to pay less. You should accrue accordingly and pay non disputed charges.
3) If you do not agree with a service charge demand, you should challenge it in writing and explain why you believe it is incorrect. For example, why should you pay for a gardener when there is no garden, for a window cleaner who never turns up, or ‘above the going rate’ for a plumber?
4) Gather as much documentation as you can and store it safely. Since any documentation gaps can be filled by the courts, you want to have as much evidence to hand as possible.
5) Make sure your Partnership Deed is clear about what happens when partners join and leave. Your liabilities to the landlord do not automatically cease when retiring from the partnership unless the lease is assigned (which is difficult if the tenancy is undocumented), so retirees will want indemnities from the continuing partners. Likewise incoming partners will want certainty that they will not be liable for charges relating to the period before they joined, and that a suitable retention is in place for disputed charges.
6) Engage with NHSPS to get your situation ‘regularised’. For most practices this will mean that it makes sense to get a lease agreed, but this should be done in tandem with sorting out disputed historic service charges. It is in everyone’s interest to avoid further expensive litigation, so there will be deals to be done.
7) Most importantly, seek specialist advice. When it comes to buildings, no two buildings and (thus no two leases) are the same. If you start negotiating without proper legal advice, you risk giving away important legal rights without securing anything in return. The most likely outcome for all practices now is a negotiated settlement with NHSPS, but this will be very difficult unless you understand the strength of your negotiating position. With so much money at stake, skimping on advice is likely to prove a false economy.
At DR Solicitors we have very deep experience and success acting for GP tenants who are in dispute with their NHSPS landlord. We understand the issues, and the areas where negotiation is likely to prove most fruitful. Our new partnership deed also addresses these NHSPS issues. Please contact Daphne Robertson or Sue Carter on 01483 511555 for a free initial conversation about your NHSPS surgery issues.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com
At the time of writing this article, the Government looks poised to delay the controversial new legislation known as ‘vaccination as a condition of deployment’ (or ‘VCOD2’) which will make Covid vaccines mandatory for NHS workers in England. The debates for and against the new laws continue to be heard, but even if the mandate is delayed, it will mean those working in the NHS will be facing the same dilemma this summer as they would otherwise face now: comply with the mandate or face dismissal.
As things currently stand, in order for a person to have received two doses of the Covid vaccine by the 31 March 2022, they will have to have had their first dose by 3 February. This is likely to account for the large number of enquiries we have seen pouring in from GP practices, seeking advice on their position.
In this article, we look at what the new law means for Practices and their employees.
What if an employee refuses to be vaccinated?
If VCOD2 goes ahead as planned, then an employee refusing to be vaccinated could face dismissal under the definition of ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’ or ‘SOSR’. An employer intending to rely on SOSR to dismiss an employee is advised to follow a fair procedure, which may include discussing the employee’s concerns about vaccination with them, and taking steps to find alternative work for an affected employee.
Some employers will argue that the obligation to follow a fair procedure is not necessary, because in all likelihood, in light of the mandate and the limited opportunities for re-deployment within GP Practices, doing so is unlikely to make a difference to the outcome. If this argument were to be successful, it could lead to any award for unfair dismissal being substantially reduced.
Many Practices will struggle to find space in their current premises to ensure separation of an affected employee. Potential for redeployment and in particular, selection for alternative work is an aspect of the dismissal process where disputes are likely to arise. If you are an employer dismissing several unvaccinated staff but have identified just one alternative position, you may need to take advice on how you choose which employee to save from dismissal and redeploy.
New policies, pre-employment checks and contracts
If vaccination status is to be a permanent pre-condition to NHS employment, all employers will need to develop policies to reflect the new law. Safe systems to ensure validity of proving vaccination status will need to be put in place and pre-employment checks and checks on locums and contractors will also be essential.
NHS England has made clear that employers must not treat VCOD2 dismissals as redundancies; the consequence being that dismissed staff will not be eligible for any redundancy pay.
The controversy and perceived unfairness by many of VCOD2 dismissals, suggests that dismissed staff are unlikely to go quietly. Class actions may even follow. Although compensation for unfairness will be limited (if awarded at all), we predict claims will be issued and employers will face the unwanted repercussions of this, in terms of time and money spent and reputational impact.
Keeping pace with change
Unlike other preconditions to employment, what constitutes “fully vaccinated” is a moving target. It is unclear how the Government intends to deal with this, save for the fact that Ministers have recently said that the booster is being considered as an additional precondition. How will employers deal with the state of flux in their contractual documentations and policies?
Impact on staffing and recruitment
VCOD2 dismissals will leave significant gaps in staffing across an already stretched NHS. Any dismissals will have a knock-on effect on the remaining workforce with employees being forced to take on additional responsibilities and work longer hours. Further pressure on NHS staff will be seen by most as unreasonably burdensome and the impact on staff retention and recruitment could be dramatic.
Morale and support
How can employers and employees keep buoyant and continue to feel supported at this time? For many, VCOD2 could see long serving members of staff leave NHS service in a matter of weeks, whilst those that remain must continue to provide high levels of care in what is the most demanding and uncertain of environments.
Whilst many questions remain unanswered, our view is that whether the VCOD2 comes into force in two months or later this year, the time for employers to develop workforce strategies to cope with the change and to inform and consult with affected staff is now.
We can advise GP Practices and PCNs on how to engage with staff, the potential redeployment of staff, as well as advising on staff handbooks and Partnership Deeds. Please contact Daphne Robertson for a free initial consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01483 511555.
Use of fixed term contracts in primary care can be beneficial to both the employee and the employer, but should be used with caution. Read on to learn about some of the key risks and how to avoid falling foul of the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (the “Regulations”).
If you are an employee, a fixed-term employment contract offers some benefits, such as a degree of flexibility and the ability to test out working in a new specialism or location.
As an employer, a fixed-term is the ideal solution if a role is established to carry out a temporary or time limited project; where a role requires specialist high-level skills to achieve a certain objective; where there is limited funding available or to cover for sick leave or secondment.
The Regulations are in place to protect an employee’s rights but are frequently overlooked in the busy world of primary care. Some of the issues are explored below.
Less favourable treatment
An employee on a fixed term contract has the same general employment rights as a permanent employee, such as protection against discrimination. In addition, the Regulations protect fixed-term employees from being treated less favourably than permanent staff working for the same employer, unless there is objective justification for the treatment. Employees on fixed-term contracts have a right under the Regulations not to be treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees in relation to:
- terms and conditions of employment
- training, promotions or transfers
- permanent positions within the organisation (employees on fixed-term contracts must be informed of any permanent vacancies that arise)
If an employee believes that they have been treated less favourably than a permanent employee, they can request a written statement from the employer to explain the reasons for the less favourable treatment. The employer must respond to the request within 21 days.
Ending the contract before or after the term
There is no legal requirement to include a notice clause in a fixed-term contract, but it is usually advisable to have one as it allows each party the chance to end the relationship before the expiry date should it be necessary to do so.
If there is no notice period in the contract and one party wishes to end the contract early, the other party may be able to claim damages to cover any losses for the balance of the contract period.
If a fixed term contract is left to run over, then each party will be required to give notice in order to end the employment. The contract will no longer end on the expiry of the fixed term because that moment has passed. Often, the need to serve notice was not envisaged when the contract was entered into, so the question of how long the notice period should be can become the subject of dispute.
Repeated renewals and conversion to permanent employment
You should be aware of the four year rule. A fixed term employee will be considered a permanent employee if they have completed 4 years’ continuous service under one or more fixed term contracts, unless the employer can justify the continued fixed-term status, which is not easy to establish.
If an employee believes that they have become a permanent employee on this four-year basis, they are entitled to ask the employer to confirm in writing that their contract is permanent and no longer fixed-term. The employer must respond within 21 days of such request or, if it does not agree, then it must justify and give reasons as to why it believes that the employment is still for a fixed-term.
Fairness of ending a fixed-term contract
In law, the expiry of a fixed term contract without its renewal is regarded as a dismissal. If an employee has two years continuous service, they will be entitled to claim unfair dismissal if their contract is not renewed. The employer will need to demonstrate that there is a genuinely fair reason for the non-renewal (and there may be redundancy rights to consider) and that a fair process was been followed. It is important that the employer consults with the employee in good time before the expiry of the contract, so the likely impact of the non-renewal of the contract can be properly explored and other potential job opportunities considered.
At DR Solicitors, we specialise in all aspects of primary care, including employment advice and dispute resolution. Please contact us for an initial free consultation by calling 01483 511555 or email email@example.com
About the Author
Karen Black of DR Solicitors has over 20 years’ of specialist experience in employment law. She has been specialising in primary care for 4 years and her knowledge of the latest trends in this ever-changing environment result in her sensitively handling employment disputes and devising practical solutions to keep disruption and costs to a minimum.
In this short v-Blog Daphne Robertson of DR Solicitors and Paula Mace of Aitchison Raffety surveyors share their expertise in primary care estates, and discuss why a GP surgery lease is very different to any other commercial lease. Produced specifically for GP practices, they identify the key considerations you need to be aware of when negotiating your surgery lease.
Watch this vBlog to understand how they are different.
If you find yourself in dispute with a partner or employee, then you may well find yourself in receipt of a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR). This is an increasingly common occurrence in civil and employment litigation and requires careful handling. In our experience many primary care practices do not have effective systems in place to deal with DSARs, which can then result in significant reputational damage and financial cost.
In this blog, we look at how and why DSARs are being used as a legal tactic in disputes, and how your Practice can minimise the risk of a claim arising out of one.
What is a DSAR?
The UK General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (‘GDPR’) provides data subjects with a right to access their personal data. Many practices do not realise that a DSAR can be made in any format, including orally, and can be made to anyone in the organisation.
The GDPR also provides data subjects with a statutory right to claim compensation from a provider where they have suffered material (eg medical bills, loss of wages) or non-material (eg distress, anxiety) damage. It has been established that non-material damage can include a data subject’s ‘loss of control over their personal data’.
Article 15 of the GDPR gives a data subject a further right to sue a data controller if they fail or partially fail to respond to a DSAR. ‘Fail’ includes responding late and/or not providing the mandatory information. Recent damages paid range from £750 for the ‘frustration’ felt by a data subject whose personal data had not been erased, to £18,000 awarded for distress following the inclusion of inaccurate personal data in a report.
Why are DSARs important?
DSARs, other than those held to be manifestly unreasonable or excessive, are a fundamental legal and human right that the Courts have held to be ‘purpose blind’. This has led to DSARs being used as a weapon by individual claimants and their solicitors to short-circuit the normal legal disclosure process. The hope is to pressurise a data controller into early and higher settlements by highlighting a breach and/or threatening civil action for compensation.
If poorly managed, DSARs can also result in claimants being given information to which they are not entitled, such as other people’s personal data, which would itself constitute a data breach. This then enables the claimant to increase the size of their own claim, and opens the possibility of further claims from new claimants. Unfortunately, the size of the likely awards means that some solicitors are prepared to act on DSARS and data breach claims on a no win/no fee basis, which simply encourages even more claimants to come forward. In this way a DSAR received on a small dispute can quickly snowball into multiple large claims against a practice.
Good DSARs management starts with processes and staff training. Since DSARs can be made to anyone in the practice, all staff must understand what to do if they receive one. This minimises the risk of a DSAR being overlooked. Practices should then have a single point of contact responsible for responding to DSARs, who is trained in the regulations and who has appropriate access to the relevant systems. They should also understand and manage the timelines for responding, and report directly to a responsible partner to enable quick decision-making. It would also be a good idea to know who you will approach in the event you need expert legal help.
The use of DSARs as a litigation weapon is increasing, as are the number and size of claims against data controllers. It is important that primary care practices have robust, formal procedures in place to ensure that:
- all staff can recognise a DSAR;
- all data search, collation, redaction and removal processes are GDPR compliant
- DPA exemptions are correctly applied;
- all non-disclosable information is withheld;
- any consents to disclosure are valid; and
- timeframes are strictly adhered to
Primary care providers who are uncertain about dealing with a DSAR should seek legal advice as soon as possible, particularly if there is a link to a known or potential litigation matter. If you would like more information about this or any other matter, please contact Nils Christiansen or David Sinclair on 01483 511555, email firstname.lastname@example.org
How up to date is your staff training really? Take a moment to answer these 5 questions:
- Do you have policies and procedures dealing with equality and diversity, for example in your staff handbook or intranet?
- When did you last review and update your policies and procedures?
- When did you last provide training to all staff, including your Practice Manager?
- Have you provided refresher training?
- Do you know how to investigate a complaint of discriminatory treatment?
If you have answered ânoâ, ânot sureâ or âover six months agoâ, you should read onâ.
A recent decision in the Employment Appeals Tribunal raises the question of what is considered ‘reasonable’ when it comes to employers providing ongoing training to employees. In the case of Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen, a colleague made racist comments to Mr Gehlen, who was of Indian origin. These comments were heard by and reported to other colleagues, including two managers, but nothing was done. Allay (UK) Limited sought to defend the claim brought against it by relying on section 109(4) of the Equality Act 2010, which states that an employer can defend a claim resulting from otherwise unlawful discriminatory actions of an employee, if it can demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent employees from committing discriminatory acts. Here, the employer pointed to its policies and procedures on equality and harassment and training given to staff in 2015.
Allay (UK) Limited’s defence failed. Although the training clearly informed staff about what to do should harassment or discriminatory behaviour occur, at least three members of staff were aware of the racist comments made to Mr Gehlen and did nothing about it. The perpetrator tried to pass off the comments as banter. The Tribunal said that this showed that the training was âclearly staleâ and that refresher training was a reasonable step which the employer could and should have taken, even though Allay (UK) Ltd was a relatively small employer. The failure to take this ‘reasonable’ step meant that they could not rely on the defence which required them to have taken all reasonable steps and compensation was payable to Mr Gehlen.
What steps should an employer take?
You may wish to review your current employee training schedule to make sure that it properly meets your requirements and provides for regular refresher training – then make sure the refresher training is undertaken.
Your policies and procedures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are up to date both in terms of the law and relevance to your Practice. Do not rely on generic, off-the-shelf policies that are unlikely to reflect accurately your Practice’s specific needs. Similarly, your staff handbook should be bespoke to your Practice, to show that you have really considered the needs of your Practice and the policies adopted.
Achieving the standard required to rely on the defence is possible and within reach of all our primary care clients. If you would like to find out how we can help you make sure that you do not unintentionally cut off this potential line of defence, please contact Karen Black by email email@example.com or call 01483 511555