Peter Higgins, chief executive of Lancashire and Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committees, explains why the LMC is comitted to the practice manager development programme
We were delighted when NHS England in October last year decided to place greater focus on the practice manager development programme – an initiative originally announced in the GP Forward View in 2016 but that many people were not aware of – and to deliver the programme with a clearer structure.
Firstly, because it signified, at long last, recognition of practice managers as a key group in transforming primary care, and secondly because it acknowledged the role of our local medical committees (LMCs) in supporting practice managers.
We saw ourselves as ideally placed to deliver what was being asked of us as Lancashire and Cumbria LMC is a consortium of five LMCs, covering 350+ practices in the two counties. We very quickly opened a dialog with NHS England to agree on how we would deliver the practice manager development programme.
The first thing we did was to appoint a very experienced and capable former practice manager, Sally Pern, as our programme manager. She understands practice management and can speak the language and walk the walk. She very rapidly started forming links with practice managers across our area, planning a high profile launch event for the programme that took place in January this year and that we were very pleased to have over 100 practice managers attend.
One of our first initiatives was to create networks for practice managers. We were aware that there were already well-established practice manager meetings in most areas in Lancashire and Cumbria, but these were largely business-focused meetings designed to discuss the latest update or initiative to hit general practice.
What we have done, therefore, is to concentrate on developing networks that build on that structure but take things one step further – giving practice managers across Pennine Lancashire, Central Lancashire, Lancashire Coastal, Morecambe Bay and North Cumbria LMCs the space to explore their own personal development. We are offering them a range of training opportunities in specific areas of their work that they find challenging.
We are also aware of the changing nature of the healthcare system; new models of care; primary care at scale; and the integration/neighbourhood agenda. Of particular note locally is the development of primary care networks and the opportunities this provides for practice managers to extend their competence and sphere of influence.
We initially thought of running these practice manager networks in each health community but realised from the feedback we received that different regions have different needs and that we needed to offer a matrix of opportunities. This comprises everything from awareness-raising sessions on high profile topics such as primary care networks and integrated care partnerships, to smaller and more defined actions that may just apply in a particular locality.
We have also established a group for aspiring practice managers, having identified practice employees across the five regions who are interested in and felt to have the potential to become practice managers. Once this model has been tested we will roll it out to other interested areas across Lancashire and Cumbria.
This group will be led by a deputy practice manager and supported by Sally Pern to deliver sustainability. All of these actions are thanks to the splendid feedback and enthusiastic response we have received from practice managers. This is their programme and they need to own it.
NHS England also wanted us to deliver appraisals as part of the practice manager development programme. However, many practice managers did not like the term ‘appraisal’ so locally we are instead going for a programme title of ‘peer review’, which we feel is more appropriate and supportive. We are now matching peer reviewers with reviewees and everyone involved is keen to engage with the process, including the reviewees who have volunteered to be part of the initiative.
We thought it was important to ensure a consistent and quality assured process so have developed a peer review framework, holding a very successful training day on this last month. The programme is now up and running and we will meet in October to discuss how things have gone, get feedback from both reviewers and reviewees and implement any fine-tuning that is necessary to the review process.
We have also run a coaching and mentoring training day and will be using a range of experienced coaches to deliver additional training sessions in the future for practice managers who would value this as part of their career development. We see the process of rolling out the practice manager development programme as a continuum – including providing networking opportunities, raising awareness of any topic practice managers need us to deliver, building confidence and expanding knowledge.
This whole process may well identify specific leadership training needs among practice managers and looking at that is the next stage for us. There are a plethora of leadership development options out there, some in the form of week-long intensive courses, others done online and others still in the shape of a formal education route, requiring a commitment of at least a year.
This can all be very confusing and we hope to be able to signpost practice managers to the most appropriate form of leadership training for them. We are also aware of such initiatives for other primary care staff, not least GPs, and are aiming to bring all this together so that training does not take place in silos and is not developed without the real needs and skills of practice managers first being assessed – which has sometimes been the case in the past.
We are, however, resisting the temptation to spend this money the easy way by simply sending practice managers on leadership certificate courses. Quite often practice managers come back and say that, while these courses and certificates look good on their CV, they do absolutely nothing for them in terms of coping with the current job and any role they are likely to move on to in the future.
Practice managers deserve a more sustained and individually focused development programme and that’s what we’re trying to give them.
Peter Higgins, is chief executive of Lancashire and Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committees
For more information on how Lancashire and Cumbria LMC is implementing the practice manager development programme, email Sally Pern, primary care leadership development manager, Lancashire and Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committees