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by Angela Sharda
29 August 2018

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The PM edit: Claire Oatway in her own words

Management in Practice is speaking to a series of PMs on the front-line about what being a practice manager means to them.

Deputy editor Angela Sharda talks to Claire Oatway about the challenges practice management poses and the future of the profession.

Q.  How has being a practice manager changed since you first started out in the profession?
I’ve only been in this role for four years but can see how much change there’s been in that short time. Many more practices are merging together or working in federations, which presents many opportunities but also presents challenges. Many of us are responsible for multi-million pound businesses and that’s a huge responsibility.
Q.  When did you begin as a practice manager and how did you get into the role to start with?
Four years ago, I left a strategy and partnerships role in the council. Over time, I felt that I was moving further and further away from making a difference to people’s lives around me. I’d starting looking for new roles when I was approached by a professional who’d been pulled in to help make the merger happen. I loved my old role but, honestly, I’ve never looked back.
Q.  What would you say are the biggest challenges of being a practice manager today?
Finances and the competition for talent are definitely the biggest challenges. As practice managers, we are continually trying to provide the best service we can, to offer the best settlement and development for our teams and to get closer to sustainability so that we’re here today and for generations to come.
 Q.  What do practice managers need most in terms of support and resources?
I think investment in training is vital. I’ve been so impressed when I’ve seen areas invest in practice management training. I’ve got to say that some procurement decisions from the Government haven’t made sense. There have been too many times over the last two years when we’ve felt uncertain about finances or given extra work because of problems nationally. The Government could do more to support practices to work at scale – I don’t think the additional costs are always recognised and many practices have technology costs, HR costs or operational headaches because they have merged or work across multiple sites.
We need national leadership to truly understand the potential that practices have to offer.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about being a practice manager?
I love working with so many warm and funny people who try their best on a daily basis. It’s also great working in an environment where you can fix things without jumping through lots of hoops – it’s very refreshing. 
Q. How do you see the future of practice management? The role did not exist in the early days of the NHS. Do you think it will still be around in another 70 years?
There will always been a need for PMs – we work in a human system; caring for humans and working with humans. Practice managers are essential in creating the conditions for patients to access great care and that’s something we do well.
Q. What do you think you would be doing today if you were not a practice manager?
I’d be a rock star with my big frizzy hair and terrible singing voice!
Q. The practice manager role is forever evolving. If you could choose your dream team, what would that look like and which professions would it include?
I’ve already got a great team around me with operations specialists, HR and a finance lead. We’ve recently taken on a project manager to help empower all of our teams to innovate and a social media expert to keep the conversations active with our patients.

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