Lynne Abbess, a partner at London-based medical specialist solicitors Hempsons, said that without formal agreement GP practices could leave themselves exposed to being taken over by other GPs or a private firm.
‘GPs should be aware that a partnership without a formal partnership deed is the most unstable business relationship that exists,’ she said.
‘Any one partner can dissolve the partnership at any time. And that action, whether it takes place because a partner retires or an individual partner bails out in a fit of pique, will leave the practice exposed.’
Writing in GP this week, she warned that the trade-off for increased funding under the new GMS agreement made 30 months ago was, ‘some would say, a complete loss of security over your destiny’.
She explained: ‘GPs practising in partnership face greater risks of losing their contract with the NHS in the face of PCTs’ increased powers.
‘If there is a partnership split, the PCT may put the former partnership’s contract out to tender rather than sanction two practices and two NHS contracts where there had been just one.
‘Some would argue that the PCT is bound to put the entire contract out to tender, with the possible result that all the GPs lose their NHS practice.’
She also predicts that small or single-handed surgeries will not be immune from the changes.
‘The days are long gone when single-handed GPs can realistically hope that their practices can survive unchanged over the longer term.
‘In part, this is [due] to fallout from the Shipman case. But for PCTs, achieving economies of scale is the bigger priority.
‘Furthermore, the ability of a retiring solo practitioner to influence what happens to their practice post-retirement is considerably reduced.’
GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey told GP that a good practice agreement was important to every practice.
‘You never know what is round the corner,’ he said.
‘We don’t know numbers for practices without a deed, but anecdotally we often come across LMC secretaries who have encountered problems due to a lack of one.’
However, he disagreed that the new GMS contract had made a partnership agreement more important, saying that there ‘was always a strong argument for having a good agreement’.