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The CQC, partner changes and practice mergers

Practices must tell the CQC when a partner joins or leaves and practice mergers may involve re-registering, Lynne Abbess advises.

Tell the CQC when a partner joins or leaves the practice (Image: iStock)
Tell the CQC when a partner joins or leaves the practice (Image: iStock)

The deadline of 31 March 2013 for practices in England to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC)  is almost upon us and I doubt that many GPs or practices will forget that date in a hurry.

As well as a declaration of compliance with the CQC essential standards, another requirement is that a GP partnership as a whole, and each partner individually, needs to meet the criteria for being ‘fit’ to carry on its regulated activities.

And if this was not enough, if a partner has joined or left in the last few months the practice’s CQC registration may already be invalid.

Surprise for GPs

It may surprise you to learn that, until 3 February 2013, the way the CQC system was set up meant that if the constitution of a GP partnership changed in any way after your initial registration application, you would have needed to submit a completely new application.  

Why? Because the CQC system was intended to follow the legal consequences of a change in a partnership’s make up. 

Under the Partnership Act 1890, any change – whether it is as a result of a partner retiring, or a new partner being admitted – technically creates a completely new legal entity. Luckily the CQC has simplified its system from 4 February.

Unlike a limited company or a limited liability partnership (LLP), an ‘1890 partnership’ has no legal personality - although a legally binding partnership agreement, signed by all relevant partners can prevent the business from automatically ending if there is a partner change.

On this basis, until 3 February the CQC’s registration of a GP partnership could apply only to the constitution (members) of the partnership at the date of registration. 

The CQC states on its website: ‘Partnerships registered before this point [4 February] have to cancel their registration and apply again as a new provider when one or more of their partners changes.’

What has changed

From 4 February 2013 a partnership’s CQC registration is made subject to an agreed condition listing the partners’ names.

If there is a partnership change, all you now have to do is to notify the CQC of the removal or addition of a partner at the time of the change.

In the case of a new partner, you need to include with the notification the appropriate declaration about that individual’s fitness, and the CQC will amend the registration.

The only exception is that if one partner in a two-handed partnership leaves, a new application will be required since the legal entity providing the services is changing from a partnership to an individual.

It would be sensible to include in your partnership agreement a reference (as an aide memoire) to the requirement to update the practice’s CQC registration each time there is a partner change.

Partnership mergers

A more complicated issue is whether a partnership ‘merger’ necessitates a new CQC registration.

This depends on the basis on which the merger takes effect:

  • If a partner in one practice joins as a party to another practice’s GP contract, as well as becoming a partner, the new partner’s admission should be notified to CQC, but it is not necessary to re-register the practice itself.
  • If partners in two separate practices become partners in each other’s practices – as well as joining in each other’s GP contracts, but continue to trade as two separate practices:  it should not be necessary to apply for new registration of the two existing practices, although the notification of the new partners in each practice should be notified to the CQC.
  • If a new practice is formed through the merger of two practices (whether it retains two GP contracts or has one new merged contract) it will be necessary to apply for new registration of the newly formed practice, together with all the partners.
  • Lynne Abbess is a partner at specialist medical solicitors Hempsons

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