It is a tough time for general practice right now, and a particularly tough time for practice managers. Fast on the heels of having had to carry out risk assessments, establish mechanisms of virtual working and completely redesign the way the practice works all as a result of coronavirus, practices have had to undertake the biggest flu vaccination campaign in history.
As if that isn’t enough, NHS England wrote a letter to practices that was picked up by the national press saying patients have a right to be seen face to face. Inevitably, the gratefulness of the weekly handclaps was quickly replaced with anger, and patients now plague practice receptionists with demands to be seen face to face whether they need it or not.
Much of the burden of dealing with the anxieties of individual staff members as they try to cope with new ways of working – the isolation of working from home, the fear of working in a healthcare environment during a pandemic, the pressure of patient anxiety passed on through every conversation – falls to the practice manager. How can a practice manager give staff the support they need, and at the same time maintain their own health and sanity when things are so tough?
This was the question our latest practice manager panel considered. What was immediately clear was that no one is immune from these pressures. Our panel are clearly feeling the pressure just as much as anyone else.
There are no easy answers. The panel was joined this time by resilience expert Dr Rachel Morris, and she talked about something called the “zone of power”, which has its roots in Dr Stephen Covey’s classic text 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (1989). In this book Covey distinguishes between proactive people – who focus on what they can do and can influence – and reactive people who focus their energy on things beyond their control. At a time when so much is outside of our control, what is important is to focus on those things which are under our power and influence.
But when everything feels so out of control, is there anything that we can really influence? What our panel concluded was that whilst it might not feel like much, it is the little things that matter. It is about checking in with staff and asking if they are ok, finding out if there is anything they need, and providing reassurance. It is about showing gratitude and saying thank you to staff who are making the effort to work in a new way and cope the best they can with the pressure they are under. It is about reminding staff the difference they are making to the lives of their patients by continuing to show up and do what is needed.
But what about practice managers themselves? Who supports them? Practice managers often only really have each other. It takes another practice manager to know what a practice manager is going through. Peer support, and taking the time out to have a coffee together (even if it is virtual!) and support each other is critical when things are so tough.
There has never been a greater need for practice managers to be part of a community that can support each other through to the other side. Your practices need you at your best, so make time for each other – never underestimate the power of coffee!
Listen to the practice manager panel discussing “Boosting morale in general practice” in episode three here: