Back in April, the NHS announced details of its General Practice Forward View, an outline of how it would like the country’s practices to develop. Included within that was a promise to deliver £6 million on the development of practice managers.
The question of what that money should be spent on came to the fore earlier this week when Dr Robert Varnam, head of general practice development at NHS England, said it has not yet been decided how the money will be distributed.
Addressing delegates at the Health+Care event at London’s Excel Centre, Dr Varnam said: “We are currently asking people what they think would be best to do with it. We certainly haven’t decided what the money will be spent on and there are still competing ideas out there.”
Of course, £6 million isn’t much money when you consider it needs to be shared out among 7,800 practices. That equates to not much more than £750 per practice, which critics say isn’t anywhere near enough to make a difference. Despite that, it is the most money the NHS has ever spent on practice management.
Perhaps optimistically, Dr Varnam, a GP in inner city Manchester, reckons that if spent wisely the money can help practice managers. “It’s a tiny amount of money but I’m keen to ensure it has the biggest possible impact,” he told delegates. I think one of the big travesties of the last generation has been that the demands on practice managers have just gone through the roof.
“People used to talk about a glorified receptionist and you could kind of see that a generation ago, but now it really, really isn’t. Yet we’ve spent almost nothing on developing the capabilities of practice managers.”
As we all know, the role of the practice manager seems to be increasing both in the scope of the skills and knowledge required and in the workload; and it’s this area where Dr Varnam, personally, would like the £6 million bounty to be spent.
“I would like to see the money help people do new things or build on existing good things that ease some of the workload pressure in their practice. And it definitely must not go off to fill somebody’s coffers to pay for something else – and it won’t do.”
He added that the new ways of working, which include vanguards, primary care homes and the GP Access Fund schemes represent another step change up in terms of specialisms and the skills that are required to manage them. Those skills include financial planning, workforce redesign, HR and service redesign. Would you spend the money on the development of these skills?
Another area Dr Varnam addresses was that of making time for practice managers – and the benefits of enhanced organisation in practices. Referring to the Making time in general practice report released last year, and the fact that 2% of consultations could have been avoided with better practice organisation, it was suggested that this is an area where investment could be made.
The £6 million question
So, with the above in mind, how would you spend the money? Given the small sums per practice, what centrally funded initiative would get your vote?
Just comment below and we will email Dr Varnam all of your suggestions.