MedEconomics: Seconding staff to practice consortia

Employers 'on loan' from practices or the PCT raise work and law issues. Andrew Firman reports.

With practice based commissioning (PBC) taking time to get into gear, some of the practical issues that GP consortia or groups need to sort out have been low down the priorities.

One such concern is the employment law implications of seconding practice staff or PCT personnel to consortia.

The main question to resolve is to ensure a properly documented legal relationship exists between the practice(s) or PCT, the seconded employee(s) and the consortium.

Your PBC group can employ staff directly if it wishes. Some consortia have adopted this approach but PBC management staff are likely to be needed more at certain times of the year that at others.

In addition, the uncertainties over year-on-year funding, may make directly employing staff a less attractive option.

Legal implications

It is crucial not to treat secondment as an informal arrangement because the PBC group would risk running into a legal quagmire over who, exactly, is the responsible for which aspects - such as pay or holiday approval - of the employment of staff concerned.

Any secondment arrangement should involve a written agreement between the consortium and the practice or PCT for the use of a staff member.

The relationship with the seconded individual should be documented in a secondment agreement or a simpler secondment letter.

Most likely, the agreement will be for the individual to remain the employee of the practice or PCT that seconded them and which will continue to pay them and retain rights to dismiss or suspend them.

It will also still be incumbent on the practice or PCT as empl-oyer to ensure any health and safety requirements are met.

The agreement should deal with issues such as how long the secondment lasts, for example, a six-month, renewable period and provide for a return to normal working.

It should also cover the precise number of hours a week the employee works and which days and between what times.

You should also include details of where the staff member will work, who they will report to at the consortium, procedures for taking time off and who to notify if off sick.

The agreement should enable the consortium to pass back to the practice or PCT any issues concerning performance or work-related conduct.

It also needs to allow the consortium to end the secondment early should the need arise - for example, if the individual fails to carry out the consortium's reasonable instructions efficiently and diligently and in cases of serious or gross misconduct.

Given the seconded employee's other work activities, obliging the individual to keep consortium business confidential is a high priority.

If the agreement is structured like this, seconded staff will have the right to return to their old jobs.

- Mr Firman is a partner specialising in employment law at medical specialist solicitors Carter Lemon Cameron in London; mailto:andrewfirman@cartercamerons.

EMPLOYEE CONSENT

- Be aware that any change to a practice staff member's working arrangements will ordinarily require their consent.

- It will be difficult to, legally, 'persuade' a reluctant member of staff into being seconded to a consortium.

- This applies even if their contract of employment contains an element of flexibility in favour of the employer over, for example, tasks to be performed and place of work.

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