Written by Graham Leyfield

GP Partnerships - Balancing risk and reward

doctors
4 min read

Graham Leyfield, Account Manager at the Wesleyan Group - the specialist financial services mutual for GPs - reviews the changing appetite for partnerships and highlights key considerations to reflect on before choosing a role in partnership. 

There is no doubt that interest to take up a role in partnership is in decline.

As of December last year, the number of full-time equivalent GP partners was 17,173 – down around 900 from the year before. 

In an effort to increase the take-up of partnerships, NHS England introduced a ‘golden hello’ scheme in its February 2020 update to the GP contract. 

The ‘New to Partnership Payment Scheme’ offers a one-off £20,000 payment(1) to qualifying clinicians looking to enter a full-time partnership role in general practice in England and provides a 20% contribution towards tax and National Insurance, as well as money towards overheads and training and skills development costs.

However, research conducted in January 2021(2) by Wesleyan Bank suggests the initiative is not serving as the incentive that it was hoped for.

Almost nine in ten (87%) respondents, which included salaried GPs, locums and partners, said that they do not consider the scheme a reason to seek a partnership role.

Partnerships – still in favour?

When it comes to partnerships, our survey found increased pressure and stress, a lack of work life balance and a lack of NHS or government support were respondents biggest worries about taking on a partnership.

While in the past, a doctor might have been expected to take a relatively structured career path that culminated in a partnership position, those entering general practice are now increasingly choosing to embark on ‘portfolio’ careers – taking salaried or locum positions that align with their own lifestyles or goals. 

For many GPs, working as a locum gives flexibility – clinicians can choose which jobs they would like to work on and can decide where and when they want to work. For those considering retirement, it can also be a way to start winding down their career. 

Despite this, however, the job security of partnership remains a strong lure.

What next for partnership? 

And there are benefits for those that pursue this career route, including the potential to increase earnings and to have a direct say in the day-to-day running of the practice.

While Wesleyan Bank’s research indicates that the financial incentive of the ‘golden handshake’ hasn’t served as a motivator for those in salaried, locum or existing partnership roles, it may prove to be an attractive incentive for those in other clinical positions. 

The scheme is currently open to twelve staff groups – including positions such as, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and dietitians – and NHS England has said it hopes to open the scheme to practice managers in the future.

Is partnership for me? 

For anyone looking to take the step up to partnership, it is essential to do thorough due diligence on the accounts of the practice, and the partnership agreement itself. 

It’s important to look at factors such as ‘retirement clauses’ – outlining any rules around when partners in the practice can choose to retire – and considerations such as maternity or paternity allowances.

New partners will need to consider what exactly they’re becoming a partner in – the practice itself, or the practice and any accompanying lease. And they will also need to think carefully about their finance options when it comes to buying into the partnership – whether they might benefit from commercial loans, or a specialist product, such as a partner equity loan.

Seeking the advice of a financial consultant to make sure all bases are covered is vital.

Ultimately, GPs, clinicians and practice managers, whether considering partnership or an alternative career route, need to think about all their options, what they mean for them and how they align with their long-term ambitions.

Understanding these points will be key to medical professionals making the right decision for their specific circumstances.  

1 This is pro-rata for a full time equivalent role (37.5 hours per week). Participants to the scheme must commit to working at least two clinicals sessions – each of a minimum of 4 hours and 10 minutes – per week for the duration of their five-year term. 

2 Wesleyan Group based this research on a survey of 201 medical professionals comprising salaried GPs, locums and partners.  

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