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Flash to bang! How short is your fuse?

by in GP Practice Management, Staff, Stress

Do you find yourself becoming increasingly short-tempered or have you seen members of your team go from being happy and chatty to the person who comes to work, does their job and says nothing? Today’s working environment is significantly different to what it was 12 months ago; little did we know then the significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on us all.

I find it hard to use the word ‘normal’ nowadays, because what is ‘normal’? Towards the end of last year, we talked about the ‘new normal’ but, alas, we may not even be at that stage yet. I think we all know where we want to be – the desired end state, the ‘norm for 2021’. How we will get there is anyone’s guess, but what is important is that we all look out for one another.

A practice manager’s office is often described as having a ‘revolving door’ and during this pandemic I’m surprised that revolving door hasn’t come off its vertical axis! I think the lyrics from Queen and David Bowie’s song ‘Under Pressure’ will resonate with everyone involved in healthcare:

“It’s the terror of knowing

What this world is about

Watching some good friends

Screaming let me out…”

I look back at my earlier career and think of some of the things I had to do (e.g. deployments for six months) and a phrase that comes to mind is “that’s life in a blue suit”, a resigned acceptance of the vicissitudes of life in the Royal Navy. Fast forward to today and I – like most of us – never for one minute envisaged being locked down, having our movements restricted, wearing face masks, nor did I envisage such a real and devastating pandemic hitting the world with such force. I can’t imagine saying to colleagues, or to my wife who works in critical care, “that’s life in healthcare” or “that’s life in the NHS”. Simply put, this isn’t normal; it’s not life in healthcare because what’s happening in healthcare right now isn’t the norm.

The impact has been catastrophic and practices across the land, including our colleagues in secondary care, are striving to do their utmost to ensure that patients receive the expected level of care, when they need it, where they need it. In primary care much negativity has been witnessed, practices graffitied, staff abused. Why? All because we were trying to do the right thing – protect the patients, ourselves and others from COVID. Is it any wonder that people – our colleagues, our teams – are feeling pressurised; emotions are indeed running high; people are feeling like they’re at complete and utter breaking point.

One of the hardest things to talk about is mental health. As a manger, you want to be there for your team to support them, listen to them and advise them, nurture and guide them through what could possibly be the toughest time of their careers to date. No doubt you’ll be asking the team, “How are you feeling?” and signposting them to resources on mindfulness, mental health and well-being. You want to make sure they don’t burn out or develop mental health issues; you want to support your team who are on-site, those who are working remotely and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. You’re supporting a team with anxieties and concerns about being exposed, about the effectiveness of PPE, and ultimately a team worried about themselves, their colleagues and their families. You’re helping people overcome isolation from their loved ones. Did you ever think you’d find yourself in this position? I haven’t yet mentioned managing absences and facilitating COVID-19 vaccination clinics, as well as the other multiple hats you wear in your ‘normal’ day job.

Has anyone asked you, “How are you feeling?” and if they do ask, do they really listen to you? I hear the lyrics of another song in my head now; this time by Lewis Capaldi, ‘Someone You Loved’:

“I’m going under and this time I fear there’s no one to save me…”

Managers are the lynchpin of their team and when the manager breaks, the impact on their teams, their practice, their patients can be so disruptive. So, what can we do about it? It may be easier said than done, and whilst some may see it as a dent in their personal pride, it really is OK not to be OK, and to ask for help.

For almost a year, you’ve been supporting your team through COVID and it will have had an impact on you at some point. Being able to talk freely will help, as will being listened to. Maybe you don’t want to be a burden, but you can’t bottle up things that are bothering you indefinitely, because at some point your fuse will blow and none of us want to witness a flash-to-bang moment!

There are so many feelings or emotions that we’re experiencing, or have experienced, as a result of coronavirus; there’s anger, frustration, loneliness, anxiety, low mood, stress or even feeling judged by others. The latter may seem odd, but a colleague of my wife left her house with a suitcase to go and spend four days at work in critical care, and the look she got from her neighbour was apparently a look of disgust. If only they’d known where she was going!

Every mind really does matter and there are lots of services available to you, such as NHS talking therapies (England), Clear Your Head (Scotland), How are you doing? (Wales) and taking care of your Mental health and wellbeing (Northern Ireland).

I’m going to arrange two really good Virtual Learning sessions (webinars); one will cover active listening and the other will look at developing sustainable behaviours. Both will be interesting, helpful and will be delivered by subject-matter experts. You might also find our eLearning course ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ [FREE in the HUB] helpful for you and your practice staff.

So, before you scream “let me out” or you fear there’s “no one to save you”, rest assured that help is available. Talk to someone you trust, seek help and support; you’re not alone, and just remember one thing – this situation won’t last forever.


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9 Responses to “Flash to bang! How short is your fuse?”
  1. Avatar
    Jacqui Jones Browne Says:

    Sums up how many of us are feeling at the minute I would imagine and I feel very close to explosion point which is not helped by having no control over vaccine stock coming to Practice.
    I am really interested in the Active Listening webinar when it is happening.


  2. Avatar
    Penny Says:

    A really good summary of how things feel at the moment. Very interested in the active listening webinar – where can we book on? We are all so used to having at least some control over how our organisations can work, but without the ability to plan we have lost a lot of that control.

    Predictable vaccine deliveries would improve my fuse length and mental health in one stroke…!


  3. Avatar
    Marie Says:

    I echo the comments above and as lead for PCN vac site it’s becoming impossible.
    Additional complexity of home life, caring for parent with dementia, alone, no support or break since August, Xmas at home with dementia and diarrhoea (too many mince pies, can’t remember eating them)! Its no fun. No one to unload to. Past breaking point now. Find myself apologising for ranting in emails.


    • Phil
      Phil Says:

      Hi Marie,

      I really do empathise with you. You might find the next two Virtual Learning sessions (Wednesday lunchtimes 1230) of interest as they focus on Active Listening and Developing Sustainable Behaviours.



  4. Avatar
    Gareth George Says:

    Hi Shippers (Phil), You probably dont remember me but but we have worked together(I’m an ex POMA) who only started in practice management on civvy st a year ago. I fully know where you’re coming from and can only say I am still adopting the RN C2DRILL to get my staff through this. On a funny note all my staff are now fully converse with Jack Speak. Nice to have a fellow matelot in GP.


  5. Avatar
    Gareth George Says:

    Morning Shippers, using terms such as “Flash to Bang” and “Life in a Blue One” got my attention. I wish that many within the NHS had the same ethos as the good old RN. I joined General Practice only a year ago after serving as a POMA (with you Phil) and what we were taught has held me in good standing for this role as a leader in Primary Care. I will add to your message to all Practice Managers as a reminder: “You flash, you lose”. Stay calm, treat everyone with respect and be the great leader that you are. We all lose it from time to time but together we stand strong. Open up to your fellow leaders/managers and share the stresses. We will survive this and come out the other end as better and stronger people for it.


  6. Phil Coates
    Phil Coates Says:

    Hi Gareth,

    Opening up and sharing the issues, pressures and stresses really does help. As I’ve mentioned in my earlier replies, the next two virtual learning sessions will give you some additional skills in active listening and also, how to develop sustainable behaviour for you and your teams.


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