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11 May 2020

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Covid-19: How can GP practice staff reassure family members who are worried they will get ill at work?

Our panel tackles the issues that confront you at work during the Covid-19 crisis. Compiled by Kaye McIntosh.

Dr Rajiv Kalia, clinical lead for GP retention, Black Country STP & partner at Slieve Surgery, Birmingham

I have found this the most challenging area of Covid-19 thus far. Your family are seeing this on the news every day and hearing of healthcare colleagues passing away on a daily basis is upsetting for them as much as you.

In our house, we try to not talk about Covid as much as possible, but it is a difficult topic not to discuss. To try to reassure my family, we have made a routine. I get changed as soon I arrive, and I immediately put these clothes into the machine for a 60 degree wash. I then clean down all handles I have touched, as well as my phone. I have stopped wearing my ring to work. Following thorough washing of my hands and face, only then will I hug my young son.

I have discussed in detail the precautions we have taken within the practice to reduce our exposure and even run these by my wife to see if she thinks she can do this better. I also think she feels it is reassuring when I am remote working for a week at time. I am sure it also helps that during breaks, I can then spend more time with our son.

I feel this does reassure my wife, but I also explain all the systems we have in place at the practice to screen patients before they come in. We have also made a plan in case I do get infected on how we will manage this, including how I would self-isolate for seven days away from them to prevent them becoming unwell.

Having discussed this, given the unknowns of Covid-19, my wife says she will always worry and there is little I think I can do further to help her anxieties.

Michelle Barksby, practice manager at Sherwood Medical Practice, Nottinghamshire

I’ve always loved my job as a practice manager. Sure, there have been times when I’ve thought of throwing in the towel or I’ve wondered why I never trained to be a horse whisperer or an astronaut, but fundamentally I love this job. But, never before has it felt quite so scary and daunting. As managers we are supposed to have the answers and be able to steer others through the storm. How do we do that when we don’t know when it will end or what the future will look like?

Managing staff fear and concerns is a big part of the job. The psychological impact of this pandemic will affect every person within the team, often in quite unexpected ways. When staff are worried about their own health or about their families, you need to take time to allow them to outline fears and concerns. People who are usually stoical may be affected in ways you could not have foreseen. 

The most important role you can play is to listen. Discuss with team members their own or their family’s anxieties, breaking down the elements and addressing each area. Consider ways in which they can help to alleviate these fears, for example, changing clothes as soon as they’re home. Do your best to ensure staff have appropriate PPE when working on site and implement remote working. Perhaps purchase scrubs or additional uniforms to allow them to change more regularly. Allow staff to change on site and arrive/leave in their own clothes if this helps.

With your own family, I suggest you follow the same advice. Distil the reasons for fear and anxiety and how you can mitigate these. Try to step outside of the role. View yourself as a member of the team and use all the ideas you’ve shared with your colleagues. Set up your own decontamination station and do the best you can to stay safe.

Nick Nurden, business manager, The Ridge Medical Practice, Bradford

Many of our staff have been very worried about the possible implications of catching this virus. Families have felt that they were more at risk living with someone who works in primary care. We have been very open with our staff about the risks and shown that we have taken them very seriously. We have had an engaged conversation about their worries and what we could do to help allay them. This ranged from providing them with the best information (to set this against what they have read on social media which is often not helpful) to discussing the precautions that we took in the way in which we run the practice. 

We openly discussed how we would engage with patients, who we actually needed to be at work, and facilitated people working from home wherever possible. We have a strong level of trust with our team and this has meant that they can work at home knowing that they will work hard for us, as they are empowered to fulfil their roles with minimum supervision anyway. They were involved in our plans for a new way of working, making sure patients only come into the practice when they really need to and  thinking about how we could continue to deliver care by telephone, video or other means – something our team was passionate about. 

We have supported those that really need to stay at home and made sure those who are still able to come to work are safe, and feel safe, when they are in the practice. Many still have some worries – we can’t eliminate that – but we have been able to provide as much reassurance as we can. This has been made easier because we have always had a great relationship with our practice team, have always listened to them and taken into account their concerns and ideas.