Retirement of a GP – checklist

A recent news report has suggested that as many as one third of practising GPs are intending to retire within the next five years. If you are one of them, and whether you are single handed or in partnership, the guide below will help you work your way through to the finishing line.

Retirement as a Partner

With a Partnership Deed

• Be aware that the date of your own retirement might be impacted by the retirement of others in your practice and plan ahead accordingly;

• Check the stipulated notice period for voluntary retirement and note whether it must conclude on a specific date (e.g. an Accounts Date or a Quarter Day) as this could affect your retirement date by as much as 12 months, depending upon the drafting;

• If you are hoping to take “24 Hour” retirement as opposed to retiring entirely from the Partnership, ensure your Deed permits you to do so – and that it also permits you to return to the practice having done so – as failing this, there is no requirement upon your partners to accept you back! The ability to take “24 Hour” retirement is also impacted by whether you hold a GMS Contract or PMS Agreement;

• Be aware, and follow strictly, any provision relating to the service of your Notice, as failing this it could be
invalid (and in a worst case scenario could allow another partner to “get in first”);

• Check whether you will be bound by any restrictive covenants under the Deed (although if you do not plan to undertake any type of work after retirement, this will be of no concern to you);

• Be aware of the time periods for repayment of your capital and current account balances – and take GP specialist legal and accountancy advice to understand the practical implications relating to your legal, tax and other financial affairs.

Without a Partnership Deed

• Without a Deed, it follows that there are no “agreed” rules to be pursued;

• This means your retirement could present both you and your partner(s) with a potentially challenging position to overcome;

• Ideally, if time permits, you should endeavour to put a Partnership Deed in place in preparation for your retirement, which (if well drafted) can continue to govern the ongoing partners post your own retirement;

• Failing this, your retirement could trigger the dissolution of the partnership – and the automatic termination of the NHS Contract held by the practice as a whole;

• It is essential that GP specialist legal and accountancy advice should be taken at an early stage to endeavour to prevent this outcome.

The Surgery

• If the property has a capital value (whether freehold or leasehold), valuation advice should be sought from a specialist GP surveyor who should value the property in accordance with the terms of any Partnership Deed/Declaration of Trust;

• SDLT – your partner(s) should take advice from a GP specialist lawyer on the impact of any SDLT which could prima facie be triggered as a result of the transfer of your share to enquire whether you are able to apply any exemption for the payment of SDLT;

• Mortgage – if the property is mortgaged, the mortgagee’s consent will be required to secure your release
– or alternatively your partner(s) will require time to refinance the property in order to repay your capital account;

• Early Redemption Payment – be aware of any which could be triggered by the rearrangement of the mortgage;

• Freehold or Registered Lease – if you are named as a “registered proprietor” of the property, you will need to sign a TR1 to remove your name from the title;

• Lease – additionally, if you are a named tenant on the face of the lease or have subsequently signed a deed of assignment, you will need to ensure your name is removed from the Lease – and the consent of the landlord may be required to achieve this;

• Depending upon the lease terms, you may also be required to enter into an Authorised Guarantee Agreement – although specialist GP legal advice should be sought before you agree to this.

Retirement as a Single Handed GP

This is not as straightforward as retiring from a partnership. You will need a firm succession plan as there are more limited options available for a single handed GP who wishes to retire.

New Partner

• Consider taking on a new partner who can “take over” the practice, thereby allowing you (after a period of “hand-over”) to “step down”;

• This may be difficult in the current climate as it is becoming increasingly challenging to find a GP who is prepared to become a Principal in a small practice – and neither is this encouraged by NHS England (whose consent will be required).

Merger

• If a new partner cannot be found, talk to local practices about the possibility of a merger as they may be keen to take over:
– your Contract;
– your staff;
– your surgery premises.

Close down of Practice

• If neither of the above can be achieved, the last option is closure of the Practice;

• The appropriate Notice must be served on NHS England to terminate your GMS Contract/PMS Agreement

• NHS England will elect either to put the Contract out to tender or disperse the patient list;

• Be aware this could incur huge costs for a single handed GP relating to:
– the redundancy of staff;
– the sale of all assets;
– the settling all debts/liabilities;
– potential “run-off cover” against liabilities which may not emerge until later;
– ongoing liability relating to outgoings under any mortgage/lease which will no longer be met as rent reimbursement will cease upon closure of the Practice.

Notifications

• NHS Pension Agency – advice should be sought at an early stage before any steps are taken to trigger your retirement – and records must be amended at the time of retirement before pension payments can commence;

• NHS England – GMS Contract: Notice of Variation dealing with the removal of your name must be submitted to NHS England;

• NHS England – PMS Agreement: as this is a ”personal” agreement, NHS England’s consent to the removal of your name is required on a case by case basis and cannot be automatically assumed;

• CQC – notification for the removal of your name from the Partnership registration must be submitted – and may take eight weeks+ to process;

• MDO – you should check your cover for any future liability (e.g. past incidents which only come to light at a later date) and ensure you have no liability to pay any “run-off” insurance (which could be substantial);

• Partnership Bank – removal of your name from the Account Name, the Bank Mandate and any electronic signatures associated with the Partnership Bank Account(s) must be processed promptly;

• “Holding Out” – you should ensure the removal of your name from the practice’s letterhead and other documentation, to include the practice website – and remove your brass plate;

• Patients – as there are no longer personal patient lists, patients can be informed through a generic announcement at the practice premises or via the practice website;

• Suppliers of the practice – should be similarly informed;

• Practice Accountants – will need to prepare either Succession Accounts (to the date of your retirement) or Partnership Accounts (to the usual Accounts Date, apportioned pro rata, depending upon the agreement reached between you)

• HMRC – should be informed by the Practice Accountants, which may be undertaken in conjunction with the filing of the Partnership Tax Return.

Conclusion

Retirement, particularly for a single hander, is not as simple as setting the date and walking away. As an owner of the business there are many liabilities which could follow you into retirement, both clinical and commercial – and it is essential to follow the appropriate path to ensure these are correctly handled and “put to bed”.

GP Specialist advice from an accountant, a surveyor and a lawyer will be essential to ensure you are placed in the best position – and the best practice advice is to start your planning at least twelve months’ prior to your intended retirement date.

This should hopefully enable you to look forward to your retirement without concern!

Articles from the Newsbrief: Five Year Forward View – next steps for primary care, GP Practice Mergers, Updated GMC Guidance on Confidentiality 2017 – what you need to know, Lease repairs for surgery premises – tackling and managing the risks, Lease overheads in GP Practices – reducing service charge liabilities, Lies and ignorance – dangerous bedfellows.

Click here to read the Spring/Summer edition of Hempsons’ Practitioners Newsbrief in full.