Management in Practice is catching up with practice managers, for our Management during Covid-19 series, to find out what steps they’ve been taking in light of the pandemic. Today, we speak with Antonia Higgins, practice manager at Brynderwen & Minster Surgeries in Cardiff.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced GP practices to review and adapt working structures in a matter of days and weeks, to respond to overwhelming pressures.
‘It was a deluge at the beginning. The team volunteered to work many more hours to keep up with all the work coming in. I ended up with 647 emails – filled with tasks – in my inbox by the end of week two,’ explains Mrs Higgins.
To manage the increased workload, she focused on delegating responsibilities based on staff expertise and adjusting roles to fit with demand.
‘Where staff have moved positions within the surgery, we’ve been able to utilise them in their previous roles. For example, the secretary and members of our IT team have come back to support telephone lines.
‘We’re giving people working from home things they can easily do while working remotely. So, they have been doing data entry tasks, such as tidying patient notes, while staff in the office have been answering phones and dealing with patients directly.’
Keeping staff engaged and supported was very important.
‘It’s about trying to be a problem solver and ensuring that we, as an employer, are flexible and grateful to our staff. We’re responding to people’s anxieties, reassuring them and helping to manage childcare issues, Mrs Higgins says.
This also meant introducing health and safety changes, such as restricting where people can sit to ensure social distancing and reviewing staff vulnerability, and providing separate spaces to work in.
Making technology work for the team was a great advantage.
‘We were lucky that we had lots of technology in place already. Most staff had loaded emails to phones and we had laptops in place prior to the pandemic, and this has supported management and GPs, says Mrs Higgins.
The pandemic has pushed the practice to adopt both electronic and video consultations. Internally, staff have also been meeting online through video chats. NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) have delivered multiple solutions to enable and support General Practice, she adds.
‘This has been a big change for people, especially for those who have never worked remotely before. Some would never have considered it, but now they want to see the technology stay.’
The practice has also been working collaboratively with its Cardiff East cluster, made up of four practices. They planned transformative changes together and arranged a contingency plan, which involves sharing system data to support each other at difficult times.
Overall, the response to the pandemic has shown the team how resilient they can actually be during difficult times, Mrs Higgins says.
‘For some, it has increased their confidence that at a time of crisis, they can come together as a team and put the steps in place to make sure they come out of it unscathed.’