Management in Practice is catching up with practice managers, for our Management during Covid-19 series, to find out what steps they’ve been taking in light of the pandemic. Today, we speak with Steph Tedstone, practice manager and partner at Compass House Medical Centres in Devon.
General practice had so little time to adapt working practices during the initial phase of the outbreak, and this presented ‘the biggest challenge’ to the team, Steph explains.
The practice set up different zones for patients, including a Red Zone to see patients suffering from Covid-19 symptoms, a Green Zone for routine appointments and a Purple Zone for high-risk patients.
‘Planning, setting up how it was going to work and updating staff is what took all our time initially,’ Steph says.
‘There have been very few cases where we have had to bring people down to the Red Zone. We’re in the South West of England, so we have really low numbers compared with elsewhere. We’ve prepared all of this but have not had to use it in the same way others have.
‘We’ve created an area at the back of our practice where we have a little car park for our really vulnerable patients to come down and stay in their car. That’s again a different way of working. It keeps them as safe as possible.’
The practice was already doing e-consultations before the Covid-19 outbreak, but this was not hugely popular among patients.
‘We have quite an elderly population. We’ve always pushed it as hard as we could, but they have preferred face-to-face contact. Now they can’t always see us face-to-face, we have seen an increase in online consultations.’
However, the practice did not have video consultations set up, so it ‘quickly got some webcams and implemented them’ and offered it to patients, who ‘seem to like it and think it works well’.
This is something Steph says she would ‘definitely like to keep’ after the pandemic is over, as it is ‘a more effective and efficient use of time’.
Staff absences and longer openings
Steph says her staff have been ‘super adaptive’ in dealing with the knock-on effects of the pandemic.
‘We had our cleaners go off from work early on because they are elderly, so our other staff took up the cleaning of the practice. We’ve got staff calling vulnerable and shielded patients to do care and welfare checks on them, provide information and make sure they have everything they need.’
The practice also offered Easter shifts to staff on a voluntary basis. Steph says staff, who ‘were all happy to go in’, agreed to split rotas, so one half of the practice worked on one day and the other half on the next.
They plan to do the same thing again during the bank holiday openings next month, to ensure ‘everybody at least gets one long weekend off in May’.
Keeping everyone updated
Steph also spent a lot of time working on keeping patients and staff updated on the changes to the practice.
‘We like to share lots of information to help everyone understand, and that takes a lot of time, in terms of writing public communications and doing face-to-face briefings with staff.
‘We’ve done a lot of communication with patients to reassure them that we’re still here for them.’
She also devoted a lot of effort to keeping herself and her staff up to date with continuously changing guidance.
‘I remember one day we decided we’re going to work in a certain way going forward and by the end of the day, the advice changed again and we had to re-write what we were going to do.
It was also a challenge to ‘keep up with the advice, as it was coming down very quickly’ and arriving from ‘many sources, with information sometimes repeated’.