More than £28 million was paid in error in bonuses to GPs under a scheme that ended nearly 10 years ago

Doctors meeting technology data

The NHS is considering legal action to claw back more than £28 million paid in error in bonuses to GPs under a scheme that ended nearly 10 years ago.

According to a report in the Health Service Journal (HSJ), NHS England is seeking legal advice as to whether it can recover the overpayments, which were made to GP partners.

The errors emerged as a disclosure of cash losses in the latest NHS England annual report, but first came to light when outsourcing firm Capita took over a major contract for primary care support services in 2015, the report states.

Error relates to GP seniority payments 

Capita’s payroll system identified historic problems before the commencement of the contract in 2015 relating to £28.4 million paid in GP seniority payments. The payments, made to GP practices on a quarterly basis, were based on GP partners’ years of NHS reckonable service, and were calculated based on each GP’s annual estimated income. ‘This determined whether the GP received payment in full or if the payment was abated to 60%’, the NHS England report explains.

In the period prior to 2015, ‘there was inconsistency in the approach to adjustments across the regions, meaning that reconciliation exercises and payment adjustments may not have routinely been undertaken by all areas. This resulted in GPs receiving payments not aligned to entitlement.’

Reconciliation exercises to determine the correct level of entitlements showed that significant overpayments had been made, and these have now been reported as part of NHS England’s cash losses for the year 2020–2021.

The seniority payments, made to doctors aged over 29 years after 8 years of service, were introduced to the GP contract in 2004, and continued for 10 years until the Health Secretary at the time, Jeremy Hunt, condemned the scheme as ‘antiquated’ and ‘deeply unfair’ to other parts of the public sector.

NHS England said that its service management team ‘is currently seeking legal advice to determine the appropriate actions to take, in order to ensure recovery of the overpaid sums.’ The consultation with the legal team remains ongoing, and the main issues under consideration are:

  • how to recover the overpaid sums from GPs when the payments were made to GP practices
  • applicability of the Limitation Act in relation to payments made long ago
  • whether the GPs are still in service in order to enable recovery.

NHS England said that, once the consultation is concluded, it will seek approval from the DHSC and HM Treasury for the measures recommended.

The HSJ quoted an anonymous source within a local medical committee, who said that any attempt to claw back the money ‘isn’t going to be popular, given the long-standing underfunding of general practice as a whole, and the fact many practices have covered additional pandemic expenses out of their own pockets.’ Having to repay the money would be ‘particularly galling’, the source said.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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