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Practices asked to repay ‘thousands’ for adjustments to seniority pay made last decade

by Rima Evans
26 October 2023

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Practices in England are being contacted about GP seniority payments calculations dating back 10 years and could be asked to repay money to the tune of thousands of pounds.

Because of the time span involved, the adjustments may relate to GP partners who have now retired, left the practice, or are deceased, or to practices that have now closed or merged, the BMA’s GP Committee England (GPCE) warned in a letter sent yesterday, making the matter potentially more complex.

The issue has arisen as NHS England – via Primary Care Support England – has been undertaking a ‘Seniority payment reconciliation’ exercise.

Seniority payments were made to principal GPs in recognition of their years of NHS reckonable service. The scheme closed to new applicants on the 1 April, 2014 and the last payments were made at the end of March 2020. 

Seniority was paid ‘on account’ (based on an interim estimate of entitlement submitted by practices) and then adjustments would be made when the Final Seniority Factor (FSF), which is the actual entitlement to seniority pay,  is published.

 This was usually three years later, according to NHS England.

However, the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 Final Seniority Factors have only just been published. 

And the GPCE letter said NHS England and PCSE are only now reviewing the adjustments made for the financial years 2013/14 to 2016/2017.

‘This exercise is not completed but practices will be contacted once this has occurred,’ it said.

The letter went on to say: ‘Because the entitlement to seniority pay can only be known once the FSF is calculated, this adjustment in actual pay may result in a potential under or overpayment. Practices are now being contacted with this calculation. The absolute sums involved are likely to vary considerably from less than £ten to £thousands.’

GPCE sets out what action practices should take once they are notified by PCSE about final figures.

For example, it says current partners should take advice from their accountants on the amounts that need to be repaid, where this is the case.

‘The amounts can be challenged,’ it said.

The letter, signed by Dr Julius Parker, GPCE deputy chair went on to explain: ‘Once figures are agreed, current partners should, if necessary, inform any retired previous partners (including partners of a then different practice if a merger has occurred) of this information. It a partner is deceased, clearly this may be a more sensitive exercise but at the least the information provided by PCSE should be made available to beneficiaries of the partners estate, if known and contactable. If there is no way of doing so, PCSE should be informed.’

Meanwhile, it’s believed practices (as opposed to those that merged) should not be contacted about surgeries now closed, GPCE has said.

On its site, PCSE said that the delay in making these calculations available was because it involved ‘a complex information gathering exercise’.

‘As the Seniority scheme itself has now finished we are working through a retrospective programme to identify and make adjustments to close the scheme off.’

Tony Brown, a former practice manager and now chief operating officer at North Shields PCN Collaboration said working through this will be difficult for practice managers.

‘How on earth is a practice manager meant to unravel something that was out of their hands and introduced in 2014? That’s almost a decade ago.

‘In financial law, accounts are only required to kept for six years, PCSE is potentially asking overworked practices to review financial information outside of that period, with partners that either aren’t still working or, as they say in their communications, could now be deceased.

‘Practice accounts will have been ratified for years, settlements agreed, retirements and pensions confirmed. And no practice will want to be calling widows or widowers to discuss this.’

Mr Brown said that one solution would be for any repayments owed by practices to be written off but that ‘payments owed to practices should still be made’.

However, Andrew Pow, of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants (AISMA) said for most practices this shouldn’t be a big issue and some will have planned for ‘final reconciliations’.

He said: ‘If the figures calculated by PCSE appear to show partners have been significantly overpaid, practice managers should speak to their practice accountants. 

‘Accountants who specialise in GP accounts are likely to have been aware of changes in a partner’s circumstances that could have affected their seniority payments, for example if they had reduced their hours. Consequently, reserves may have been set aside within the practice accounts to cover any final reconciliations.

‘If reserves have not been made in the accounts, the overpayment will need to be allocated to the partner concerned. If they have moved on from the practice, or are deceased, practices should follow the advice set out in the letter from the BMA.’