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What skills will practice managers need in the future?

General practice in 2020 will not look the same as today. Ian Jones, operations director at the Practice Managers Association, looks at how the role of the practice manager will develop.

Practice managers will need to demonstrate highly-developed leadership skills (Picture: iStock)
Practice managers will need to demonstrate highly-developed leadership skills (Picture: iStock)

The future of General Practice might look a little uncertain – growing skills gaps, workforce shortages, increasing financial burdens, an ever-expanding governance landscape, coupled with an aging population with increased patient and policy expectations; factors making for a sector under strain.

These collective pressures are beginning to drive a fundamental transformation in what constitutes general practice and the delivery of a more sustainable service.

General Practice in 2020 will not look the same as today – and nor should it. The new look general practice will be able to work at scale making best use of new technologies. There will be development and expansion of the healthcare workforce and improved practice environments. There will be improved signposting of patients to the most appropriate service for them or where appropriate supporting them to self-care.

And GPs working as part of a more joined up primary care workforce will be able devote the greatest amount of time to quality and health improvement for patients and local communities. What matters now is getting on and delivering it so that practices can start to make a difference and patients can start to feel the difference.

Core competences of a practice manager

Core competences of a practice manager (PM) are likely to change. Finance is the fundamental challenge of the practice; ensuring the right systems and rigorous financial governance are in place and that this follows through into the business practices.

PMs also have a pivotal role to play ensuring all aspects of risk and governance, operational efficiency, resource planning and management - and the resulting conflicts are managed effectively. They play a vital leadership role in ensuring the very best practices are implemented and are an integral part of day to day activities.

There is no doubt that today and in the future, PMs are facing challenges and changes that require a transformation of their business approach. In order to anticipate and seize opportunities to drive GP business success, PMs will need to demonstrate highly-developed leadership skills.

Driving change forward

Business efficiencies and the adoption of technology will be vital ingredients of long term service improvement. To maximise business impact in today’s NHS and drive future success, PMs must become more nimble and flexible and position their practices to be so too. This will help them anticipate and drive change moving forward. They will still require a forensic approach to financial management with scrutiny of every line on the budget, especially when contracts are coming up for renewal.

Operationally, there will be a shift away from the traditional appointment-based system to find ways to provide a better service with less resource – ‘it’s not about doing more with less, it’s about doing more but, doing it differently’.

For example, by telephone triaging all calls and dealing with a proportion remotely without the patients having to attend the surgery, freeing up more time for those who need a face-to-face appointments. It’s important to involve the customer/patients in the improved service levels and communication is a vital and often overlooked role of the practice.

Tackling workload pressures

Workload pressures are a challenge for PMs. This can be helped with the use of good people management – leadership, collaboration, delegation, training, support, and teamwork.

Similarly, PMs can do much to support each another. This is already happening across the NHS with practices reducing workload and bureaucracy by pooling resources – sharing staff, covering staff illness or annual leave, joint training sessions, even sharing clinical staff or HR resources.

Practices also need to start developing a leadership pipeline. Succession planning will not only ensure a solid leadership foundation moving forward, the additional support provided by people development could be a valuable resource PMs could draw on.
 
There is now recognition that stress in general practice is a real issue, not only for GPs but for PMs too. Time-management will always be a valuable tool for any PM but stress management should also be factored in and this can be cascaded across the practice to benefit all members of staff. This should be actively managed so that support is in place for staff at all levels – by recognising the signs and triggers rather than waiting for until its critical.
 
There is little doubt the role of the PM is changing – they are very much more a strategic part of the practice. Core skills will always focus on the financial management of the practice but will shift towards – business planning and management and innovation. PMs will increasingly be central to the leadership of the practice and their ability in change management will be critical to general practice transformation.

  • For further support from the PMA, join us at the PMA Conference & Exhibition at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 22nd June 2017. Entry is free. For more information click here.

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