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PCN Communication – the Do’s and Don’ts

Communication in any organisation is probably the most important pillar of how it functions and how effective and sustainable it is. There are two main strands to an organisation’s communication; the way in which people communicate between themselves inside the organisation, and the way they do so with those outside of that group. For an organisation as complex (and as new) as a Primary Care Network (PCN), there needs to be significant investment made in ensuring that PCN communication is the best it can be.

PCNs must operate with and communicate to an array of different people, both staff and patients. To support PCNs, the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) provides funding for 26,000 additional roles to create bespoke multi-disciplinary teams (MDT). Communicating in an MDT meeting is a skill in itself.

PCNs are a key part of the NHS long-term plan; by 2020, most GP practices were in one of around 1,250 geographical networks. They aim to bring general practices together to work at scale, and as a result are one of the most crucial arenas for getting communication right. The networks each cover around 30,000-50,000 patients and will provide the structure and funding for services to be developed locally, in response to the needs of the patients they serve.

New ways of communicating

The recent Covid-19 pandemic clearly had a devastating effect not just on our health, but on our NHS’s ability to react, plan and treat patients. That impact is still being felt now. The pandemic also necessitated vital new ways of communicating, to be deployed at speed. Some of these were because face-to-face methods were no longer available due to infection spread; often staff were isolating or too ill to work, because their physical or mental health (or both) had been affected.

These new ways of communicating are vital, but they have not always been got right, however, and the NHS is still in a process of bedding them in and educating people about them.

Learning from the past, hoping for the future

Now is a good time to think about communication in the context of where PCNs and primary care have come from, and where we want to collectively get to.

During the pandemic there were often times when large groups of people had to be brought together at speed, who had not met face-to-face before, to communicate a problem and try to solve it. Each had their own priorities, outlook and ways of doing this. It became clear that to have the best chance of getting through things, clarity of message was absolutely crucial. Not only did many of these people lack previous personal relationships, but they were also meeting and communicating on unfamiliar platforms—Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, etc. Add in the fact that the amount of ‘headspace’ they had to take in what they were hearing was under pressure as never before, and you had a recipe for huge challenges.

These challenges remain, though familiarity with these new ways of talking to each other has increased. Below are some ideas about best practice when it comes to PCN communications.

PCN Communication – the Do’s and Don’t

In his podcast on Pulse recently, Clinical Director of Townships 1 Network in Sheffield, Dr Tom Holdsworth shared some best practice he had learnt about internal PCN communications:

Do:

  • Choose the right medium for your communication. Quick, urgent queries might be better dealt with on a staff WhatsApp group rather than by email, for example. For some important matters, there may be no alternative to in-person meetings, however.
  • Manage social media use carefully (FPM Member’s Policy library has templates for social media use policies and what to do if you’re the subject of online abuse).
  • Ask public health colleagues who are used to communicating things at a population level for advice—especially if you’re more used to communicating to individual patients or colleagues on a smaller scale.
  • Consider training staff in communication: Doctors may have learnt to be ‘in control’, appearing strong and decisive at all times—that’s good with patients, but it can mean that they are not good at opening up to colleagues about issues and making themselves potentially vulnerable when they try to find help for problems, or build consensus around an issue.
  • Have regular check-in meetings with practice managers; discuss issues week-to-week and hear their concerns.
  • Make sure the right person is entrusted to do the comms or have the meeting—someone who maybe already has a relationship with the other party or has met them before.
  • Appreciate that rapid change means a battle to win hearts and minds. Having effective communication channels is key to achieving this.
  • Communicate how you can help others, and how others can help you. PCNs and PCN hubs can relieve some pressure that general practice is under, whether that be with knowledge sharing, collaborative working, networking, HR support or in other ways.
  • Remember that trust and cohesion at ‘place’ level is crucial for PCNs.

Don’t

  • Don’t let instant messaging apps blur the line between work time and home time. Set boundaries with apps like WhatsApp so they don’t impinge on people’s lives during evenings and weekends. Embed this culture, and consider writing it down if necessary.
  • Don’t forget to listen as well as talk: everyone should try to be on ‘receive’ mode as well as ‘transmit’ mode.
  • Don’t assume everyone is managing with technology. Some people, especially older team members, may need individual assistance or training.
  • Don’t forget to raise awareness of ARRS roles and how they can help with patient and care and workforce workload
  • Don’t leave the social and fun element of work out altogether. Now people are meeting in person again, team socialising and relaxation is crucial to letting off steam and rebuilding lapsed relationships.

Look out for further upcoming articles on how to progress and promote your PCN. In the meantime, why not contact us to discuss your PCN and other training needs, or have a look at Thornfields courses such as Improving Communication with Staff and Patients, Assertiveness and Interpersonal Skills and Total Team Working?


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