An insight into the Practice Management of Parkwood Surgery

I joined Parkwood Surgery as Practice Manager in June 2004. Prior to that I had been working in the banking industry for twenty five years but I had become increasingly dissatisfied with how that industry was evolving so I was looking for a change and I thought that the skills I had acquired in my banking work would be relevant to working in the health care environment.

A GP practice is a business with the doctors being under contract to the National Health Service (NHS) to provide medical services to the population within the area the practice covers. The doctors are either partners in the business or salaried doctors who work for the practice. The practice also employs nurses, a pharmacist, a physiotherapist and support staff. At the moment the total number of people working at Parkwood Surgery is around fifty.

My role is the Business Manager for the Practice and I manage all the non-medical aspects of the practice’s work which includes finance, HR responsibilities, recruitment of staff, IT infrastructure and increasingly, liaising with and reporting to the significant numbers of other Governmental Health related organisations that are now part of the complex healthcare environment in which we work.

The Surgery at Warners End is in the process of being extended and refurbished at present with a final completion date expected in early 2022. This is a major building work and I am responsible for overseeing the work and liaising with the the numerous contractors, architects and surveyors, Dacorum Borough Council and others involved in the project. I am also a member of a local practice managers’ group that has regular meetings with our Clinical Commissioning Group in order to ensure that any problems that may arise in our work can be sorted out at an early stage.

I must talk about COVID and the effect this has had on our work. The practice never stopped seeing patients from day one of the lockdown. However, we had to devise methods of working in ways that protected patients and staff while allowing patient access and as this was all new to us it was a case of trial and error. This practice had one advantage over some other local practices as we have had a telephone triage system in operation for several years while they had to introduce a telephone appointments system without any previous experience of using one.

Inevitably the phone lines have been busy and at times very busy and the time taken to deal with patients’ concerns has also increased. For example, pre-COVID the practice could deal with one hundred patients in three hours while now it takes four hours to deal with the same number.

With regard to the telephone triage system, I know that some people don’t like it but it means that the practice can deal with patients’ problems more efficiently. Our staff are dedicated to providing a first class service and we encourage our receptionists to ask the caller about the nature of their problem and the reason for this is that the doctors do not deal with calls on a ‘time called’ basis but prioritise on a ‘need’ basis so the more information the caller can provide to the receptionist, the better placed the doctor is to prioritise the problem.

I would also encourage patients to use the Patient Access website as that makes renewing prescriptions and seeing test results very easy and saves unnecessary calls or visits to the surgery.

The most frustrating thing about COVID for me is that policy announcements have been made by the government at press conferences that have a direct effect on our work and we have not had previous warning about the policy. A good example of this was the announcement of the NHS national vaccination system. The following day we had over three hundred telephone calls asking about booking an appointment for a vaccination programme that had nothing to do with local GP practices!

Looking ahead, I think that it is unlikely that GPs will return to working in the same manner as before COVID happened. I believe that the virus has sped up the introduction and use of technology such as telephone and internet consultations by GPs and this will remain the case in the future.

Although our practice is fully staffed recruiting suitably qualified doctors for General Practice work is now quite difficult. One of our senior doctors recently said that when he joined this practice over twenty years ago there were forty four applicants for one position but at the last recruitment interview there were only four candidates and I cannot see that situation improving for some time.

This practice has an active Patient Participation Group (PPG), The Friends of Parkwood Surgery, and I find that very useful when I want to talk about introducing new or different ways of doing things and when members of the Group bring matters to my attention that need addressing. The electronic doors at our Warners End Surgery were installed as a direct result of a group member seeing a young mother with two children and a pram struggling to get through our old double doors.

I hope this gives readers some idea of my role at the practice and they find it of interest.