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Management during Covid-19: Efficiencies made during pandemic should remain, says Sarah Buckley

by Awil Mohamoud
4 May 2020

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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 Sarah Buckley, practice manager at Swallownest Health Centre in Sheffield. 

GP practices have had to make several months worth of systematic changes in a matter of days and weeks in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘We have created many efficiencies in the system that weren’t necessarily there before and would benefit from remaining,’ says Miss Buckley. 

Remote consultations

One of the biggest adaptations has been moving to more remote forms of consultations such as telephone and video, for most appointments. Miss Buckley’s practice introduced the AccuRx system early on to assist with this.

‘We’ve been able to ask patients to send us photos, undertake video consultations and deliver messages and documents such as fit notes to patients with speed and without the need for them to come to the surgery. The staff have all been amazing at how they have adapted to all the changes so quickly.

‘I know the doctors will appreciate the options available to them going forward; with video and telephone consultations along with face- to-face.

Sometimes remote consultations can take longer to carry out than regular face-to-face appointments, but it could also save patients going into a practice for simple issues such altering prescriptions, she adds. 

Rotherham Health app

Her practice (which comes under Rotherham CCG), has been urging patients, wherever possible, to sign up and access GP services online. It has been asking people to sign up to the Rotherham Health App, a service that patients have been using to order prescriptions, view test results and get information about symptoms – something many patients would previously call in about. The system would usually also allow patients to book appointments not only in her surgery but also in others for evening and weekend Hub appointments, but the current triage requirements during Covid prevent this. 

Communication with colleagues

One of the big challenges, particularly early on during the outbreak, was staying on top of continually changing Government guidance, making sure staff understood the changes and acting fast to implement them, Miss Buckley says. 

Her practice has been ‘working collaboratively’ with others in the PCN.

‘It has been very helpful to have video meetings with them to keep up to date on all the changes and make sure everyone is doing everything correctly and safely. WhatsApp has also been a breath of fresh air, as we’ve been able to communicate very well across different groups.’

Communication with patients

The practice has been posting regular updates on its website and using social media to keep patients informed of changes. 

‘The social media platforms have been very helpful and very quick for word to get round. While we appreciate that not all of our 16,500 patients have access to online and social media, we have been asking people to share with others who wouldn’t necessarily see it. 

‘We were also sending out text messages to patients early on, but we can only reach those whose numbers we have correctly recorded, so it has been really important to remind patients to update their contact information at all times.’

Going forward

‘The NHS has spent a lot of money on digitalisation over the last few years and it has been worthwhile to push on with that during this crisis, Miss Buckley explains. 

Beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also ‘important for patients to realise that there are other services readily available including self-care and over the counter via a pharmacy or supermarket in addition to seeing their GP’. This could help reduce some of the pressure on GP services for minor ailments, she suggests.