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by Anne Crandles
5 December 2011

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Deep and crisp – and planned for!


Practice Management Adviser
Boroughloch Medical Practice, Edinburgh

By this point in the year, your practice’s flu immunisation season is probably drawing to a close – with just the usual few stragglers still to be persuaded to attend.

I would also assume that the practice’s Christmas party night is booked and/or caterers have been hired for the inhouse Xmas lunch. No doubt you are preparing notices to remind patients to order adequate supplies of their repeat medications to last them over the festive period. I am even willing to bet that most practice managers will have purchased an advent calendar for the back office. Shame on you if you haven’t!

But what about planning for adverse weather?

While last year’s bad winter might have been taken us by surprise – albeit we rose to the various challenges it presented us with in true practice manager style – it would be much more difficult to defend a fire-fighting approach with no forward planning this time around. With this in mind, and in order to help, I would like to ask you some questions.
Have you placed an order for grit and/or salt yet? Remember last year, when there was none to be had anywhere? Did you buy those extra shovels once B&Q had more in stock – as you said you would? Have you had your central heating boiler serviced and are the water pipes all lagged?

Have you risk assessed which members of staff would be unable to travel into work at the first signs of snow and then worked out how this would escalate if the bad weather continued? Have you thought through the guidance they would inevitably need – be that pitching up at their nearest practice offering their help and expertise or organising work that could be done at home, for example, writing updates for the practice’s procedures manual?

How would you cope with the resulting staff shortages? Do you have a ‘buddy practice’ agreement with your neighbouring surgery? Or would you, in turn, be happy to accept help from displaced staff from other practices? Have local practice managers discussed and agreed this type of planning (including how staff would be paid and any implications for your employer’s liability insurance). Would the GPs (and indeed the staff!) be happy with such arrangements?

Clinical staff
Are all of the GPs and nurses able to travel in? Do some of the clinicians have vehicles that could be utilised to pick up staff or to make visits, leaving ‘rear-wheeled drive’-owning colleagues to see patients in the practice? Could this be organised now?

What are the contingency plans for the community nursing service?  Do they have access to 4x4s or will their cars be fitted with snow tyres?  Could you ask about this now?

Business continuity planning and ‘sitreps’
Is the practice part of a wider business continuity planning group? Is it expected to maintain regular contact with local authorities, eg, providing daily situation reports (‘sitreps’)? Who would be the contact point? You?

Notifying patients
How did you communicate any reduction in service, arrangements for repeat medication, etc to patients last year? Having thought through the above points – could patients be informed now of what a bad weather service might look like?

This might all seem very alarmist but the chances of us escaping this coming winter without a spell of adverse weather are highly improbable. So please plan and prepare – if it doesn’t happen then that’s a bonus. And just think how ready you will be when the snow arrives during the following year.

And finally, Merry Christmas!

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

“All very well what you said about cars but what if you can’t get in it? Just a little advice now that winter is upon us!!!! Clean all your rubber door and boot seals with meths or white spirit, apply either silicone grease or Vaseline to all seals, then no more sticking doors in a frost, also apply some to the key a put it in the door and boot barrel. Also grease up your bonnet and boot releases. In spring reclean rubber seals with spirit and key barrels with WD40 until next winter. Oh! And if you have snow chains and a BMW make sure you put the chains on the back wheels!! Drive safely” – Jack, Leith