Considerations when taking on a new GP partner

Justin Cumberlege, a partner in the healthcare law firm Hempsons, highlights some considerations when taking on a new GP partner.

First published in Practice Management in September 2021

Whether you are a single hander or an established partnership, a new GP partner is someone to enjoy working with, who will help you out, release time for you in the evenings and be someone to share your problems with.

But when it doesn’t work out, you will hate going to work, you spend the evenings worrying and you are hiding your problems. You have brought stress into the heart of the practice partnership.

It is important to get things on to the right track from the start when taking on a new GP partner and reduce the risk of a destructive fall out soon after they join.

Check that your recruitment list includes signing up to the partnership deed, and make certain it is an up-to-date deed. They will then sign a deed of adherence (whereby they agree to the terms of the deed) before they enter the partnership. Check that the provisions for a probationary partner are appropriate. If not, these can be varied in the deed of adherence.

It is preferable to have a new partner on probation than to have them as a salaried GP first, because if it does not work out, a partner does not have the employment rights of an employee. Also, the probationary period will count as their time as a partner to be able to retain the £20,000 NHS new to partnership payment scheme, and they will be entitled to claim £3,000 towards training.

If the probation is unsuccessful for either party, the partnership deed should have a mechanism that, by giving notice, the partner may retire, or be required to retire, from the partnership. Usually, the notice period is quite short – say one month.

You then need to add the new partner to the GMS/PMS contract, and require their consent to remove them as a contractor if they leave.

You should pay particular attention where the partners are property owning partners of the practice premises to ensure that a new partner does not inadvertently obtain a share until they have bought in. You will want to share liabilities, such as the bank borrowing or lease over the practice premises. This is quite a procedure, requiring the agreement of the bank or landlord, and difficult to reverse if the new partner leaves.

Consider waiting until the end of the probationary period before giving the new partner an interest in the property. However, you also need to ensure that they do share those liabilities at the end of the probationary period, and a mechanism should be put in place for that to happen. Without that you risk a scenario where one partner is left with these liabilities resulting in a ‘last man standing’ scenario. Having a power of attorney in the partnership deed, and agreement to deduct sums from their profit share over a period of time for them to buy into the partnership property, will assist in a partner joining, and, if necessary, leaving.

Plan carefully when taking on a new GP partner and ensure your practice is in order before they join.