MDU medico-legal adviser Dr Catriona James explains the steps you can take to ensure the smooth running of your practice over the summer
Summer holidays can be a challenging time for practices. With higher than usual numbers of practice staff on leave, patients visiting from overseas and local patients taking their own holidays, it pays to put some strategies in place to ensure the smooth running of the surgery. The following advice is intended to help you and your practice prepare for the summer months:
1. Staff availability
Many patients or their relatives will call requesting to speak to or see a specific member of clinical staff. It is important your frontline reception staff have accurate and up-to-date information about which members of staff are currently available and the return dates of those on holiday.
This will enable reception staff to give accurate information to patients and their relatives promptly to ensure good communication.
Reception staff should also have an accurate and up-to-date list of any locums covering clinical appointments so that patients and their relatives can be offered an appointment with an alternative clinical team member.
In the lead up to a period of leave, it is a good idea to encourage all clinical and non-clinical staff to reflect on any tasks or issues which need to be handed over to colleagues to be dealt with in their absence. In addition, clinical staff may wish to handover clinical summaries on patients with particularly complex or unusual conditions.
Summaries of relevant information can help those covering periods of leave to provide appropriate and safe clinical care. Handovers would ideally be in a written format and easily accessible to all relevant staff.
Any tasks identified at the time of a handover should be allocated to a named individual who will be present throughout the period of leave so that individual can take responsibility for any follow up action required.
Many practices will be employing locum nurses, nurse practitioners and GPs over the summer. You should ensure your practice locum pack is up-to-date and complete.
Locums, especially those who have not previously worked in the practice, should have an appropriate induction to practice systems and procedures, including to the electronic record system.
The pack should include details of how the locum should raise concerns about any administrative issues he/she has in relation to accessing required information and practice systems.
4. Repeat prescriptions
It may be useful to give greater publicity than usual to the methods of requesting repeat prescriptions and the timescales within which requests will be processed. It is not unusual for a patient or their relatives to overlook ordering enough regular medication to tide them over their own holiday or to ensure they have an adequate supply when they return.
5. Sending patient information overseas
The MDU is regularly contacted by practices during the summer months that have received requests from patients or their relatives for medical information and documentation to be sent to healthcare professionals treating the patient overseas. It’s important for the team to know how to deal with such requests.
Many requests come from the patient themselves, but there are circumstances where requests are made by relatives because a patient is incapacitated (for example, having been in an accident) hence cannot provide consent.
In those circumstances, a pragmatic view should be taken based on the nature of the request, the information provided by the relative, any previous knowledge of the patient’s family connections and the location/identity of the individual or organisation where the information would be sent.
Where the patient or relative provides an email address for a healthcare professional or organisation abroad, ideally a pathfinder e-mail would be sent by the practice in the first instance asking the recipient to confirm their identity and location and that they are treating the patient.
Relevant information could then be sent once this has been confirmed, either on the basis of the patient’s express consent or, if the patient is incapacitated and unable to give consent, because it is deemed to be in the patient’s best interests.
All of the above is general advice. MDU members can get specific advice by calling our medico-legal experts on 0800 716 646.