The problem with ‘bridging partnerships’

Traditionally, NHS dental practices with a standard GDS contract are sold via the partnership route. Put simply, an application is made to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to register the buyer and seller as a partnership, notice is served to NHS England in order to add the buyer to the contract, and both of these changes will take effect on completion. A few months after completion, the process can then be reversed. One application is required to cancel the partnership, while another is made to the CQC in order to register the buyer as an individual provider. Notice will then be served to NHS England to remove the seller from the contract.

This process seems longwinded, but it is the only way in which a GDS contract can be moved from a seller to a buyer, seeing as it is not permissible to sell, assign or transfer an NHS contract. As already mentioned above, in order to bring in a partner under an NHS contract, notice must be served pursuant to clause 292 of the contract. However, before agreeing to such a request, NHS England will want to see evidence that the same partnership will be or is going to be registered with the CQC. This much has always been made clear by the NHS.

Up until recently, buying and selling a dental practice had been a relatively straightforward process – at least in terms of the CQC and the NHS. Ultimately, you knew what applications to produce and submit, you knew what the NHS would ask for, and negotiations didn’t really take place. However, a change in the CQC’s approach toward partnerships has made the process of buying and selling an NHS practice with a GDS contract far more challenging than it had been previously.

Although the CQC has not clarified on what it means by a so-called “bridging partnership”, we can assume that this is regarded as a partnership that has been registered for the sole purpose of facilitating the transfer of a GDS contract. In other words, a bridging partnership is temporary. To deter vendors from being able to use the partnership route to transfer an NHS contract, the CQC is now far stricter when it comes to registering partnerships. As a result, it is becoming more and more difficult for dentists to do so, which in turn has an effect on the NHS element.

So, what does this mean for the profession? Essentially, dentists that seek to transfer an NHS contract via the partnership route may need to provide comprehensive evidence that they are forming an authentic partnership, if they are to secure both CQC registration and consent from the NHS. Ultimately, you cannot have one without the other. Of course, this means that a lot more work is required in order to prove the validity of a partnership. Applicants must be careful so as not to allude to a temporary partnership and this is not just with regard to what is said, but also to what is shown.

Many CQC inspectors will ask for evidence of partnership agreements, insurance, policies, procedures, and data protection registration – among other things. It must be made clear at the outset what the purpose of the partnership application actually is and this begins with the application forms. It is important that the correct message is conveyed to the CQC that you are registering an authentic partnership.

Typically, however, the process of registering with the CQC is one that dentists are naturally apprehensive about, considering there are already so many hoops to jump through to be successful. With the added pressure of having to prove the authenticity of a partnership, registering with the CQC can be stressful, particularly if issues do arise in the process. For this reason, it is worth seeking out the assistance of experienced dental solicitors who are well aware of the challenges relating to CQC applications and NHS regulations, and can offer solutions to these problems.  

It is important to instruct solicitors that have years of experience and specialist knowledge of the dental sector, meaning they can provide a reliable service in line with the latest industry trends and guidelines. The professional solicitors at Goodman Grant are experts with regard to all matters concerning NHS contracts and regulations. They can offer clear, straightforward legal guidance on specific contract terms, as well as the regulatory frameworks and legislation that govern their implementation. If you seek to transfer a GDS contract, Goodman Grant will work closely with you and advise on the steps that must be taken to satisfy CQC registration requirements to ensure a smooth, hassle-free transaction.

Eugene Pena of Goodman Grant Solicitors – contact [email protected]

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