Life, as we know, is a challenge in general practice. But will 2021/22 prove to be the biggest challenge so far?
Now, 2020/21 was challenging enough! It is not every year that practices have to completely change the way they do things, cope with a pandemic, run the biggest ever flu vaccination programme, and then deliver a covid vaccination programme that has shown the rest of the world the power of UK general practice.
However, next year may be even more challenging for practice managers. There are a number of reasons for this:
Staff are exhausted. Many of those working in general practice have more or less run through the whole year on adrenaline. This is going to catch up with people – if it hasn’t already, then it will do soon. Staff cannot keep going at the pace they have been indefinitely. And when they finally have to stop or take a break, it will be down to practice managers to keep things going.
COVID isn’t going anywhere. While many of us crave for a return to normality, the truth is that the normal we all knew has gone forever. Not only has COVID changed general practice forever, it continues to evolve and forces general practice to continue to change with it. This constant change in itself is exhausting, particularly for those who have to enact these changes.
COVID vaccinations are likely to continue for the rest of the year. The new enhanced service for COVID vaccinations basically extends the programme of the last three months until at least December. Realistically, it is unlikely to end then as new variants may require new vaccinations, and we may need to start vaccine boosters just as soon as the initial rollout is complete.
Demand for general practice is likely to explode. Through 2020/21 there are many patients who have stayed away from general practice because of pandemic fears. At some point, that unmet demand is going to surface, and when it does life will be much busier for practices than it has ever been before. What NHS England appears to be clear on is that, whatever the demand, general practice has to be able to manage it alongside the additional work caused by the pandemic – without any extra resources.
The number of ARRS staff is likely to double. This year we have seen a big rise in the number of ARRS staff, and this rise is likely to be even greater in the year ahead. Each new member of staff brings their own set of demands and challenges on organisations, and none more so than the ARRS staff who work across different practices and need logins, desks, systems and support in each practice. This work inevitably falls to practice managers, and this work seems to increase exponentially as the size of teams increases.
CCGs are going. History has shown us that whenever the lead commissioner of general practice changes, problems in dealing with local contracts, receiving payments on time, and sorting out issues follow. As CCGs move their functions into the new integrated care systems (ICSs) so the local primary care teams will change, and this cycle will begin once again. Just as practice managers had to pick up the pieces when CCGs were formed back in 2012/13, so they will have to this time round.
In the March episode of the Practice Index Practice Manager Panel podcast, we discuss some of the challenges facing practice managers in 2021/22. There is no getting away from the fact that it is going to be a challenging year. What is key for practice managers, in particular, is to find ways of accessing personal support, and to invest time in supporting each other. It is only by looking after yourself that you will be in a position to provide the support that the rest of the practice is inevitably going to need.
You can listen to the practice manager panel and their predictions for the next financial year in episode eight here: