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General Practice in 2024: Bolstering Practice Resilience

Date: 10/01/2024 | Healthcare

The start of a New Year has always been associated with taking a fresh start and resolving to do things better or even differently. As individuals we are familiar with making New Year’s resolutions, but the principle is just as applicable to businesses.

It is sensible to take time to reflect on where your business is at, what has and hasn’t worked well in the past year, what opportunities the next year may bring and what challenges it may present.  However, real value comes from deciding what to do in light of those reflections. 

For those involved in Primary Care, 2023 was a year of real challenge. It has never been harder to be a private contractor operating within the public sector behemoth that is the National Health Service. GP Practices are small to medium enterprises and very often at the smaller end of that spectrum. Yet they are operating within a heavily regulated environment where enterprise is certainly not encouraged and is, more often than not, not only discouraged but seen as having no place at all. 

Of course, if you know what the regulations are, you can work out how (or whether) to operate within that environment. However, Primary Care also suffers from being one of the few areas devolved governments have any real control over. The capacity of politicians to make unexpected and often poorly thought-out policy changes makes it an even more unstable environment to work in. There is, though, little sign of that changing any time soon.

What can GP Practices do, then, to recalibrate at the start of 2024? Here are five things which should benefit every practice.

Understand the Current Climate

Firstly, make sure that you are aware of the environment you are operating in.  It is all too easy for Practices to ignore the wider environment and to be caught unawares when distress lands at their door. Keep apprised of government policy and how your Health Board is implementing that policy. Understand where your Practice sits in the priorities for your Health Board area. For instance, the National Code of Practice for GP Premises which was introduced as part of the New Contract commits Health Boards to taking over leases of premises – if you are in a leased building where is your Health Board at in implementing that commitment?

Be Thorough When Signing Agreements

Be questioning when your Health Board asks you to sign agreements. Do not just accept what you are told is “normal practice,” “a formality” or even “the law.”   Once you have signed an agreement it is very much harder to get out of than if you had not signed in the first place. A prime example would be Service Level Agreements.

Keep Agreements Updated

Make sure your partnership agreement is up-to-date and that all partners have signed the relevant legal documentation confirming they are bound by its terms. Similarly, make sure that former partners have been fully released from the partnership agreement (once they have settled any liabilities they may have) and no longer have any involvement with the Practice. This may include updating the title deeds, the bank loan, or the lease to remove them.

If your partnership agreement has not been reviewed recently then review its terms with your lawyers and accountants to make sure it remains fit for purpose.

Plan Ahead

Actively plan your workforce requirements during the year. You know when the busy times of the year are, when demand for holidays is at its greatest; as a business you should take control of managing expectations at the start of the year rather than leaving it to individuals to decide in their own good time what works for them.  Do this in January.

There are, of course, many other things you can do. However, once you start looking at some of these issues you will inevitably become drawn into other considerations all of which will enhance your understanding of your business and the risks it faces.

Be Willing to Pivot

Lastly, remember that some businesses do fail or need restructured. If you feel that your business may fall into that category, then take advice before things get out of hand. Often there will be a resolution but if you leave matters too long in the hope, they will sort themselves out then your options will reduce and almost certainly become less appealing.

If you would like to explore any of the themes raised in this article and what they may mean for you please contact Andy Drane, head of our Medical Partnerships team. He has many years of experience working with practices in addressing issues and strengthening their businesses, and would welcome the chance to speak with you.

The matter in this publication is based on our current understanding of the law.  The information provides only an overview of the law in force at the date hereof and has been produced for general information purposes only. Professional advice should always be sought before taking any action in reliance of the information. Accordingly, Davidson Chalmers Stewart LLP does not take any responsibility for losses incurred by any person through acting or failing to act on the basis of anything contained in this publication.

Written by

Andy Drane | Davidson Chalmers Stewart
Andy Drane

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