Call for pragmatic approach as GPs struggle to complete COVID collaboration agreements

GPs rushing to agree collaboration agreements before the COVID-19 vaccination programme starts next week should focus on 'problem areas' and accept there is no time to create a 'perfect contract', a leading medical specialist lawyer has said.

GPs to sign COVID collaboration agreements (Photo: Thianchai Sitthikongsak/Getty Images)
GPs to sign COVID collaboration agreements (Photo: Thianchai Sitthikongsak/Getty Images)

GP-led designated sites preparing to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations must have a collaboration agreement signed by all member practices two days before they begin administering vaccinations, NHS England has said.

For the 280 sites expected to be part of a first wave that will take delivery of a 975-dose pack of vaccine on 14 December, these agreements must be in place by Sunday 13 December.

NHS England has published a 34-page template collaboration agreement, which sets out the legal framework for practices in each area to work together to deliver COVID-19 vaccination, including arrangements around sharing staff and funding, indemnity, managing data and confidentiality, and other issues such as attending meetings.

COVID-19 vaccination

The document also sets out measures for resolving disputes, along with reasons why a practice could be expelled from the group and notice periods if they choose to leave.

The short turn-around time for agreeing the document - which has large blanks that practices must fill in - has left GPs concerned that there is simply too little time for practices to go through it thoroughly and seek legal advice.

Northumberland LMC medical secretary Dr Jane Lothian told GPonline: 'Think of the agonising people did over the primary care network (PCN) agreements. This is taking it to a whole new level - sharing funding, responsibility for the vaccine, site security, IT, premises, insurance etc.

'And some quite complex staff sharing agreements. Does require every practice doing their bit in terms of staff training and so on. The template - with quite a few blanks - is 34 pages long . If practices had had a month to look at it that might have been ok but I don’t know many lawyers who turn around advice in five days.'

Pragmatic approach

In a blog this week, medical specialist solicitor Daphne Robertson warned there was 'not enough time to create a perfect contract'.

She wrote that because the collaboration agreement will be a binding legal agreement between a group of practices it would 'normally be advisable to seek legal advice before signing it' - but that in the circumstances practices should take a 'pragmatic' approach.

Practices should 'focus on the most likely problem areas', Ms Robertson wrote - including money, decision making and, indemnity and staff sharing plans.

However, she warned that for practices delivering vaccines across an existing PCN group, the process could be simpler - but where PCNs are joining together or adding new practices, these groups 'will essentially have to create a new PCN from scratch over the next few days, which is a near-impossible ask'.

Ms Robertson suggested practices should agree what they can and consider agreeing to revisit gaps in the agreement once vaccination is underway.

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