A tired and seemingly deflated Edwards Poole, a practice manager at Brunswick Park Medical Practice, spoke to Management in Practice following the general election on Thursday night. The active campaigner and vice-chair membership officer of the Labour party in Enfield North had just taken a week off work to campaign for the party.
Mr Poole has been a practice manager at his North London practice for six months. Before this, he studied and worked in animation at Channel Five before being made redundant. The years following this, he worked his way through various admin roles in the NHS, some of which he sadly lost to budget cuts.
Since then, he’s made it his mission to make himself indispensable through acquiring useful skills – something he believes all leaders should do.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
Probably keeping up with everything and settling into my role. Getting to the stage I am at now and feeling like I’ve sort of got this under control, that’s an achievement for any practice manager. Getting all the different aspects and departments you run under control: knowing that your fire safety is okay, that the pensions are sorted out and that you have enough appointments next week. Just learning to cope with all that and manage it is a great achievement.
What qualities do you think make a great leader?
I think having a good view of the big picture and all the kind of small pictures that fit into it is important. Also, having a vision for what the organisation is about and being able to communicate that vision to people.
People get into general practice because they want to look after and care for other people. You do it because it’s a caring profession – it’s important to remember that because it can be difficult to maintain sometimes, especially when you’re confronted with very angry patients.
What’s the key to your own personal success?
Determination and resilience, mainly.
Determination to not be in the position I’ve been in the past, so that I’m not subject to whims and forces outside my control. I just wanted to protect myself. So I insisted on certain training at my previous surgery, which set me up for a better position in the next surgery I applied to work at. I think it’s important to continually try and advance your knowledge and skills so you can make yourself as indispensable as possible.
What skills do you think are important to develop?
Any really, even fixing printers. Developing a skill like that means you’re marketable for life.
What do you think the healthcare system is lacking in terms of leadership?
An honest conversation about what’s happening in the NHS.
We had the health and social care bill and a lot of people were concerned about what that meant and what the agenda was behind it. We were told that we didn’t have to worry, that GPs were going to be making all the decisions from now on, but that didn’t happen.
The decision-making has disappeared off into unaccountable hands that no one ever gets access to, we don’t know why these decisions get made or who makes them. I think we really need an honest conversation about what is behind these decisions, why we are increasingly centralising health care. I personally don’t see how decision-making becoming more and more remote helps anyone.
What challenges have you met along the way?
Well, the main thing would probably have been my experience of losing multiple jobs without being in control of the situation and still managing to maintain that drive.
Also, I had a different career in mind when I started off, I wanted to go into animation and when that didn’t work out and I was made redundant, I had to start from scratch and decide what direction to go in.
How do you balance two leadership roles?
To balance the workload I’m going to quit the current position I have in the Labour party, but maybe I’ll run for local council again in the future. I’d need to be working a four day week for that, so that one day of the week I could actually be a local councillor. Maybe in the future, when I’m more established and if we have a different management structure in the primary care network, I could afford to take one day a week off. We’ll see.
Has being a practice manager affected your party activism?
Yes, I think it has in a way. Working in the NHS you can see the effects of the social care policy and the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts on general practice.
You can see first hand the real effects of policies on real patients. If somebody is in my office crying because they can’t access mental healthcare because the waiting list is months and months long, it does motivate me to go out there and speak to people about the serious need for better healthcare.