Should I become a partner as a practice manager?

First published in Practice Management in October 2020

Justin Cumberlege from specialist healthcare law firm Hempsons flags up some of the issues to be considered before joining the partnership

A first reaction to being offered a partnership is to jump at it – but you need to look before you leap. Being recognised as an invaluable resource and an integral part of the partnership, your position will always be different form the GP partners. You may want to ensure your obligations as a partner are formly agreed.

The terms on which you become a partner are not protected by law, unlike an employee. As a partner, your only protection is what is set out in the Partnership Deed. The one exception is the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of a protected characteristic.

You need to consider the rights you could be giving up, such as the right to be paid if you are on holiday or parental leave, or if you are sick or made redundant. You could be expelled without notice or payment. Whether you could resist such action would depend on the terms of the Partnership Deed and also whether, in fact, you could work in an environment where you knew some other partners wanted you to leave.

Much of a partnership is based on mutual trust, good faith and consensus, and in this respect it is somewhat different from the normal employer–employee relationship. The biggest change is your personal liability. As a partner, you become personally liable for the actions of all the partners in relation to the business. This means that if a claim is made against the partnership you, as one of the partners, would be equally liable.

In addition, a claim could be made against you personally, and then you would be in the position of having to claim a contribution from the other partners. So you need to check carefully what the liabilities of the partnership are. For example, if it has borrowed a substantial amount of money, the bank may then make a claim against you to reclaim that money, should there be a default. You would want to make sure that you had access to the assets of the partnership at your disposal to meet such a claim.

‘It is not unusual for a clinical malpractice claim to be made against an individual GP and the partnership as a whole, and you would be responsible to meet that claim if it was successful’

You may be offered an indemnity by the other partners – but will that be sufficient? It is not unusual for a clinical malpractice claim to be made against an individual GP and against the partnership as a whole. Again, you would become responsible to meet that claim should it be successful. Therefore, you need to make sure that the partnership has in place insurance which covers you, as well as the clinical partners (who are probably covered by their medical negligence insurance).

It should go without saying that you must have a Partnership Deed in place before you become a partner!