If you are an NHS provider, you will need to notify your primary care organisation. The standard NHS GDS contract in England (revised April 2013) requires that you give a minimum of three months' written notice to the Local Area Team of NHS England at any time to terminate your contract. Similar stipulations apply in the other countries of the UK.
If you sell your practice, your NHS contract will not pass automatically to the purchaser. Instead, you will both need to contact the local Primary Care Organisation before the sale is complete. It's particularly important to seek specialist legal advice about how to manage this aspect of the sale.
You will also need to notify other regulatory organisations with which you are registered, such as the Care Quality Commission and the Information Commissioner's Office.
Advice in brief
- Obtain specialist legal and financial advice about dissolving partnerships, transferring assets, contracts and employment law.
- Notify your patients in writing and explain arrangements for their ongoing treatment.
- Store archived records securely and keep for the minimum retention period at least.
- Ensure patient confidentiality is maintained when disposing of old records.
- Contact the regulators where you are registered.
- Notify the Primary Care Organisation and agree arrangements for your departure.
Taking care of business
Don't consider selling your practice without legal representation, particularly on contractual matters including the transfer of assets and goodwill. If you are winding up your practice, seek legal and financial advice about aspects such as dissolving a partnership and submitting your final accounts.
The GDC expects you to inform patients in writing before ending a professional relationship. You should arrange to complete current courses of treatment, if this is feasible, and explain any provisions that have been made for patients' continuing care - for example, if another dentist will be taking over the practice or the patient's treatment.
Whether a practice is closing, continuing or being sold, it is vitally important that clinical records, including radiographs, photographs and study casts are retained. Whether you are in NHS or private practice, we advise you to follow the NHS Code of Practice on Records Management which states that community dental records should be retained for a minimum of 11 years for adults. Children's records should be kept for 11 years after the last entry or until the patient reaches 25 years - whichever is longer.
We recommend checking records to ensure they are no longer needed for dento-legal purposes before disposing of any that exceed the timescales set out above. For example, if the patient previously made a complaint, it may be advisable to keep the records indefinitely, even if that complaint was apparently satisfactorily resolved at the time. Claims for clinical negligence can arise many years after the incident or complaint and it may be difficult to defend an allegation successfully without the records.
If the records are being transferred to new owners of a practice, ensure your sale agreement incorporates a clause about record retention
To comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, archived records should be:
- stored securely
- protected against damage
- accessible, whether you use a commercial facility or a locked cabinet.
If the records are being transferred to new owners of a practice, ensure your sale agreement incorporates a clause about record retention and allows you reasonable access to your records in the event of a claim or complaint.
When the time comes to dispose of the records, this should be done in a way that protects patient confidentiality, e.g. shredding or incineration of paper records. We recommend that you talk to an IT professional about permanently destroying electronic records.
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If you are retiring, but considering options such as locum work or writing expert reports, it would be wise not to remove your name from the relevant GDC Register. Applying for restoration involves providing evidence of good health and character and compliance with the GDC's Recertification CPD Requirements, as well as a restoration fee on top of the annual retention fee.
Following a sale, the rights of staff are protected under a system known as TUPE (the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006). Good practice guidance is available from ACAS, but we also recommend you consult an employment law specialist. Free expert advice is available to practice principal members of the DDU from Peninsula Business Services on the DDU's Employment Law Helpline (0844 892 2810). Have your individual DDU membership number and Peninsula card to hand when you call.
DDU dento-legal adviser
DDU dento-legal adviser
Nick Torlot BDS FDSRCS (Eng) qualified from UCH in 1983 and spent 19 years as assistant and then clinical director of Salaried Dental Services in Hampshire, while continuing to practise clinical dentistry. He has been involved in dental education as an adviser and vocational trainer with the London Deanery and as a trainer with the Winchester scheme. Nick joined the DDU as a dento-legal adviser in 2010.
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