GP Contract Primary Care Networks

Shaping your Network for future success

Denise Smith, practice manager lead for the Sandbach, Middlewich, Alsager, Scholar Green, Haslington (SMASH) Primary Care Network, shares her tips on how to shape your Network for success.

1. Engage other healthcare professionals

We hosted a SMASH Primary Care Network (PCN) launch inviting opticians, pharmacists and dentists to help build the relationships and shared vision that will potentially help us solve any problems at a later date.

Communication is key in every direction. People don’t like change but if you involve them from the beginning, they will feel part of it. You will get different opinions; listen to them and try new things rather than just saying ‘we can’t do it’.

2. Team up with your peers

I think it is really important for practice managers to go out and about and meet their peers. A good way of doing this is by attending conferences like the Management in Practice events and your local LMC training events.

One of the things we’ve decided to do in our PCN is implement a practice managers’ PCN meeting. We have practice managers’ meetings on a local scale, but we felt it was important to have a PCN meeting in addition to these. We have organised meetings for both practice managers and advance nurse practitioners, as we feel that people in this role are usually quite isolated.

In a recent meeting over lunchtime, the clinical director also gave a presentation on PCNs and the feedback was excellent – people were made aware of where we are heading and what our plans are. These events are a great opportunity to get everybody’s engagement, ideas and opinions.

3. Involve your patients

Make your patients part of the discussions, rather than just having them read about these changes on a leaflet.

I have shared the work we have done in our PCN with my practice’s patient participation group. The support they have given me in return is fantastic; they are feeding back our work to the patients and the community in the area to make them aware of the changes the NHS is currently undergoing.

5. Be organised and communicate

In my role as PM lead, you need to be organised and have a substantial commitment to support the clinical director. You need to have a good working relationship and communicate with them on a regular basis.

However, you also need to communicate with everybody. When I receive an email, I send it to all practice managers and the GP leads in our network, to ask them for their thoughts. In that way I can get their comments, which I then feedback to our clinical director, Dr Neil Paul.

6. Remember the wonders of the world wide web

We are looking to implement a SMASH PCN website to allow any of the practice managers in our network to log on and see where we are up to. Ideally, our website will have a forum, which will benefit new practice managers in particular, helping them get quick access to key contacts in our area.

7. Use digital toolkits

We are also going to be the pilot practice for a ‘live chat’ service, provided by the company Refero. If successful, we could implement this service across all six remaining practices in our PCN.

We will initially just use the service to answer questions on our practice’s website but in the future, we would also like to introduce some Q&A sessions with our clinicians.

8. Accept support from your GP federation

Our GP federation, The South Cheshire and Vale Royal GP Alliance, together with Howbeck Healthcare – a company offering support to PCNs and GP federations – have supported us and given advice on different things that we can work on.

9. Stay focused

It is vital you monitor things on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you have a plan B ready for key decisions to pre-empt any crisis before it arises.

Keep thinking about your priorities – there are a lot of day job pressures, with people wanting to approach the PCN as their way to reach you and it’s easy to waste time and effort.

10. Plan carefully for allied staff roles

There is huge explosion in new allied health professional staff coming, and many practices and PCNs are not yet preparing for how these new roles will work and how existing staff will relate to them. Lawyers and accountants are lining up to give everyone advice on VAT and contracts and company structures – but remember form should follow function: decide what your staff are doing and why first.

Moreover, don’t assume that a central organisation employing everyone is the answer. Practices employing their own staff to work on PCN service delivery issues – or perhaps a hybrid model – might be a better way to go and will save a lot of the legal and VAT issues.

The 30% funding of roles is also unlikely to be adequate. There is a lot of work coming through the DES so it’s vital to make sure you have your team set up to help your PCN deliver all the requirements efficiently.

Denise Smith is a practice manager in Cheshire and the practice manager lead for SMASH (Sandbach, Middlewich, Alsager, Scholar Green, Haslington) Primary Care Network

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