Regular readers will understand the importance of keeping your partnership deed up to date. This is particularly true when new partners join, as this can easily supersede and invalidate the former partnership arrangements. A recent High Court case has demonstrated some of the risks.
The case of Cheema vs Jones
In this case, two GPs – who we’ll refer to here as A and B – entered into a partnership to provide medical services under a GMS contract. The terms of this agreement were set out in a Partnership Agreement which was signed in April 2016.
Shortly afterwards, A and B decided to admit doctors C, D and E into an expanded partnership, and it was agreed that this larger partnership would start on 1 July 2016.
Solicitors were instructed to prepare a new partnership agreement. However, before the terms could be finalised a dispute arose between A and B. Matters escalated and when B was prevented from seeing patients and refused access to medical records, B obtained a High Court injunction allowing him back into the surgery.
A, C, D & E then served a Notice on B dissolving the partnership. Their intention was presumably to exclude B, enabling the others to continue the practice without him.
The High Court agreed with A, C, D & E that a Partnership at Will had been created in July 2016, and the April Partnership Agreement was no longer relevant. They were therefore entitled to dissolve it by serving notice on B.
Sadly, A, C, D & E’s High Court victory was pyrrhic. By dissolving the partnership they immediately put the GMS contract at risk since this was held by a Partnership which no longer existed. Within weeks the practice had been given notice by NHS England and a temporary contract to ensure continuity of care had been placed with another practice.
- When you are considering admitting a new partner to the practice, make sure you agree the terms of the partnership in advance. This can be either a Deed of Accession to the existing Deed, or by signing a new Partnership Deed.
- Always issue a comprehensive partnership offer letter to prospective new partners. This will set out the key terms of the appointment and help ensure the current partnership deed continues, at least in the interim. For more information see: Why is a partnership offer letter so important?
- Probationary periods are not relevant to the continuation of the ‘old’ partnership. Once a new partner joins, the old partnership arrangements fall away unless there is strong evidence to the contrary.
- It is always very risky to dissolve an NHS medical partnership. The contract and the future of the practice is immediately put at risk. Dissolution is such a draconian step it should normally only be undertaken as a last resort and with very careful contingency planning.
- Having an up-to-date partnership deed is your best protection in the event of a dispute. It can be invalidated in whole or in part for a number of reasons, so you should revisit it on a regular basis. For further information see: The dangers of having an out of date partnership deed
The Partnership Agreement is a critical document for managing your practice and securing your future. Revisit it regularly, always use a solicitor who is experienced in Primary Care matters, and don’t rely on unregulated ‘advisers’ or borrowed templates.
For all your partnership matters, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org