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Almost half of practice managers struggle with low morale at work, report reveals

by Costanza Pearce
27 March 2019

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Nearly half of practice managers struggle with low morale at work, a new report has revealed.

The Primary Concerns 2018: The State of Primary Care report, published today, surveyed more than 2,300 readers of Cogora’s five primary care publications: Management in Practice, Healthcare Leader, Nursing in Practice, Pulse and The Pharmacist.

In addition to practice managers, the survey also gathered responses from GP partners, salaried GPs, practice and community nurses, healthcare assistants and community pharmacists across the UK.

While 42% of practice managers said they struggled with plummeting morale, GP partners were even worse off, with 53% reporting ‘low’ or ‘very low’ work morale.
The report also found that over a third, 35%, of practice managers felt so stressed and burnt out that they had taken time off work in the last year or expected to need to in the coming 12 months.
‘Unrealistic demands from patients’
Unrealistic demands from patients were said to be ‘very influential’ on low morale by 55% of practice managers, making this the most significant factor according to the profession.

Almost half, 49%, of practice managers said too much bureaucracy was ‘very influential’ on their low morale, while 39% said workload from other NHS sectors was, 34% said the same of unfair NHS criticism from the media, and 33% of unfair NHS criticism from politicians.

A third, 31%, said they felt unappreciated by NHS management, compared with 54% of GP partners, while workplace bullying was ‘not at all’ influential on low morale for 70% of practice managers, compared to 56% of salaried GPs.

The majority of practice managers, 30%, said low pay had a neutral impact on their morale. 
This finding tallies with the fact that the majority of practice managers, 60%, had requested a pay rise or improved working conditions while in their current role – with 76% of those being successful in their request.

This was the highest percentage of any of the professions in the report, with the average pay rise granted to practice managers being 7%.
While physical abuse from patients had no impact on work morale for 62% of practice managers, almost half, 45%, said that verbal abuse from patients was a factor.
The survey also revealed that practice managers are among the primary care professions most likely to suffer verbal abuse, with 55% of respondents saying they had been on the receiving end of this. 
A third want to quit
A third, 30%, of practice managers said they were considering leaving the profession in the next year for reasons other than retirement, the highest percentage among the professions surveyed.

With 17% of practice managers saying they may retire in the next 12 months, in total nearly half of respondents, 47%, are contemplating quitting in the next year.

Respondents said they were considering leaving because practice management is a ‘thankless task’ with an ‘unrealistic workload’ and ‘constant pressure’.

Others described feeling anxious and depressed, saying they ‘can’t carry on’ because ‘every day is a battle’.

One practice manager said managing their team is difficult because ‘staff morale is the lowest I have seen for years’, while another said ‘the stress is mentally and physically breaking me and my whole team are looking to move on ASAP’.

Co-chair of the Practice Management Network Steve Williams said: ‘I have empathy with all the points raised because, to a greater or lesser degree, they are true in most practices.
The impact may vary from practice to practice, but the consequences of such sentiments affect the profession as a whole.

‘I have always maintained that the issues affecting the workforce, such as recruitment, retention, mental health and wellbeing apply to all staff and not just GPs. We need to value these staff equally.’

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