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by Rima Evans
28 December 2022

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2022 at a glance: from multiple health secretaries to inspirational practice managers

Editor Rima Evans sums up the year in news and features as covered by Management in Practice – and boldly suggests a few New Year’s resolutions

So, how did 2022 go?

I think it’s fair to it’s been such a hectic year again, filled with change and not a little uncertainty – after all, we have had three health secretaries in the past 12 months. 

Covid was still dominating the headlines as we ushered in 2022;  near its end, strep A is proving to be the dominating health scare with practices seeing a ‘relentless’ increase in demand from worried parents.

Manging demand has been defining issue for a second year running. Amid a deluge of negative media headlines about GPs ‘refusing’ to see patients in person and not being able to offer timely appointment slots, it’s been a struggle for GPs and their practice teams to manage increasing patient resentment.

Not surprisingly, the result has been growing levels of abuse, with a survey in May highlighting the shocking statistic that almost one in three GPs and practice staff have been physically abused at work.  

As Oakham Medical Practice, based in Rutland, revealed in June that it considered the level of abuse it was experiencing so severe, the only safe option was to temporarily remove all reception staff from the front desk. GP partner Dr Adam Crowther memorably said in an interview with Management in Practice (MiP) that, ‘the abuse is getting so extreme some staff don’t want to do the job anymore, and that’s a big threat – perhaps the biggest threat – to patient care.’

In response, MiP decided to launch its #Keep your practice safe campaign, offering articles and guides on how to safeguard staff and minimise risk.

Meanwhile, after a pause during the pandemic practices had to get back into the swing of being aware of and complying with all the QOF rules again so as to maintain practice income. The pressure on practices to ensure every little bit of funding is being uncovered has been immense, amid rising inflation and expenses.

Personal finances have been a key theme in 2022 especially since the NHS Pension scheme saw a major shake-up, with all members now moved automatically to the 2015 pension scheme. More changes are being consulted on but the crisis issue of ‘punitive’ pension tax bills that is pushing doctors into early retirement still hasn’t been addressed.

Pensions may be a complex issue, but the Government programme aiming to give  patients access to their GP records via the NHS app (also known as the Citizens’ Access programme) has frayed even those with the steadiest of nerves because of the sheer amount of work it involves.

The ‘switch on’ date for this has been delayed by more than a year now (originally it was set for December 2021) and there’s been a few false starts since it was due to go live on 1 November, then 30 November. There is still no official start date for many practices. PMs and GPs have reported how intricate a task it is redacting records to preserve patient safety – and that the process is hugely weighing down on staff already overburdened with other demands.

But let’s not leave it on that note.

There has been some truly praiseworthy and innovative work carried out by practice managers this year, amid trying conditions. Some of their achievements were showcased at the General Practice Awards at the start of December.

The finalists in the Practice Manager of the Year category were unbelievably impressive with PMs demonstrating their versatility and range of skills: from transforming appointment systems to free up capacity, coordinating Covid vaccine campaigns, to setting up various community projects.

A huge congratulations to all the finalists but in particular the winner, Martin Turner of Staveleigh Medical Centre, Cheshire.

So, based on key messages from 2022 what New Year’s resolutions should PMs adopt for 2023? These are my four suggestions:

Prioritise your own wellbeing (instead of always putting other staff members ahead of yours)

At our MiP event in October, Swansea GP Dr Erwin Kwun, reminded us that wellbeing is not out of our control but a skill we can practise.  He also said that self-care is ‘a non-negotiable’ if we want to flourish at work.

Dr Kwun described the five pillars of wellbeing as: positive emotion; engagement; relationships; meaning; and accomplishment. Taking small steps to address these, such as taking time to reflect on your accomplishments or focusing on gratitude can amplify wellbeing, Dr Kwun said. Spend time with colleagues who boost your energy, he also advises, and limit interaction with individuals who have a negative effect.

Be a bold leader

Practice managers are spinning many plates but being able to lead their teams through change will be the skill that can help surgeries cope better with shifts in policy and rising patient demand. Manchester GP and leadership coach Dr Robert Varnam says being an effective change leader relies on three things:

  • Building a shared purpose with your staff so new initiatives are not just about targets
  • Understanding and tapping into what motivates your team
  • And, not being afraid of resistance but instead being willing to find out what’s behind it so you can address concerns without the need for conflict.

Seize new opportunities especially around tech

Practices that are early adopters of tech or get involved in pilot tests may reap added benefits such as getting extra support and being able to shape solutions to suit their needs, Lisa Drake former general practice manager and now director of quality, service and improvement at digital communications agency Redmoor Health, advised at a MiP event in October.

‘With NHS funding constantly changing and new priorities emerging, offering to be an early adopter may mean that you get access to new products to help deliver services,’ she said. And being part of early research can allow you to suggest improvements that you know your practice most needs, she added.

Keep doing what you are doing

Your hard work is appreciated. Thank you.

The team at Management in Practice wishes you a happy and healthy new year!

The rest of this newsletter features more highlights of our news, blogs and interviews from 2022.