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Failure to invest in demanding role of practice managers is a ‘travesty’, says NHS leader

by Carolyn Wickware
29 June 2016

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The head of general practice development at NHS England is calling for suggestions from practice managers on how millions of pounds should be spent on their development.

Dr Robert Varnam, head of general practice development at NHS England, said it has not yet been decided how £6 million, promised in the General Practice Forward View for “practice manager development”, will be spent.

Speaking to delegates at Health+Care event at Excel London today, Varnam said: “We are currently asking people what they think would be best to do with it, including colleagues that the Practice Management Network, who have been really helpful.

“But we’ve not decided yet. There are still competing ideas out there. My email is [email protected] if you’ve got a thought.”

Spread across 7,800 practices, Varnam said “it’s a tiny amount of money”, so he is keen to make sure “it has the biggest impact”.

However, he added that it is the most money the NHS has ever spent on practice management.

He said: “I think one of the big travesties of the last generation have been that the demands on practice managers have just gone through the roof.

“People used to talk about a glorified receptionist and you could kind of see that a generation ago, but now it really, really isn’t.

“Yet we’ve spent almost nothing on developing the capabilities of practice managers.”

The new ways of working, including vanguards, primary care homes and the GP Access Fund schemes represent “another step change up [for practice managers] in terms of specialisms that are required: financial planning, workforce redesign, HR and service redesign,” he said.

In his speech, Varnam pointed to the Making time in general practice report released in October last year, which found that about 25% of consultations at 250 practices were avoidable.

Of that, 18% could have been avoided by making changes within the practice rather than system-wide.

This included 7% of consultations that could have been avoided if the patient had been directed to someone else in the practice, 6% could have been avoided with better self-care resources and 3% with improved care navigation.

The study also found that 2% of consultations could have been avoided with better practice organisation.

Varnam said that he would like to see the money “help people do new things or build on existing good things” that ease some of the workload pressure in their practice.

He added: “And it definitely must not go off to fill somebody’s coffers to pay for something else – and it won’t do.”