Business Continuity Plan. Where is yours?

It started with a text. 11.45pm on November 26th 2012. It said, just to let you know there are flood warnings for the A5. This is the road I normal travel via to work. I live in North Wales, not only that but I live in the wettest part of Wales, 45 minutes away from work. Snow, hail, wind, rain, blizzards. That was a daily part of my life. What's new, I thought. I politely replied to the text and went to sleep.

At 7am I was awoken by the sound of my son throwing up. 7.10am my phone is persistently beeping and there is a recurring theme on the texts - St. Asaph and floods.

I work in St. Asaph, as the practice manager for Pen-y-Bont surgery, a practice with three partners and 5500 patients; I started the job in January 2012. I thought the partners were a bit nuts giving me the job at first, no NHS background and I'd not ever heard of QOF or ISMS or LDs or EMIS. I think my presentation at interview nailed it, I threw in a few 'doctor jokes', like the one about the patient who kept imagining he was covered in gold, don't worry it's just a gilt complex said the GP.......hard to resist huh?

I worked hard, really hard. I was very fortunate to have landed into an amazing team from the admin team right through to the nurses and partners. They were always on hand to answer all my questions from what do we calibrate, do we have a recall system to where is the key to change the loo roll? When it came to completing the annual ISMS in May, I knuckled down, studying each question thoroughly and when I got to the question about the business continuity plan, it would have been easy to just tick the yes box as we did have one but it was out of date. I do remember fleetingly thinking, when are we every going to us this?? I worked through it over a few days. I emailed it to myself. I thought nothing more of it.

7.45am I call Karen who works on reception to tell her guiltily that I can't come in. My boy is still on first name terms with the toilet bowl. “Are you ok?” I ask. “Fine”, she says. “Though I am the only one in so far”, she says. Odd, I thought.

8am - my daughter goes out to school, 8.10am my daughter comes back in. “The buses are not running, flooding or something”, she says, elated at the thought of a day watching Friends instead of studying French.

8.15am - Karen rings me, her voice is shaky. “I'm worried”, she says. “There's water coming through the door”. I feel a flutter of panic. I swear. Then I go into manager mode. “Try not to worry”, I say. I put the phone down and I worry. Within 6 hours Karen's car, parked in the doctors car park, would be written off engulfed by water, 4 consulting rooms would be destroyed, 3 offices, a reception area and a waiting room would be trashed by the power of the river Elwy. On that day it rose by 17ft and caused pain, trauma and devastation to the population of St Asaph.

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8.17am - I try to ring the partners, without joy. Everyone is caught up in the mayhem.

8.20am – Calmer, I remember my plan. My business continuity plan. I start to work through it, it was amazing, a relief, everything I needed was at my finger tips, and I rang BT so that the calls could be transferred to my home number. “What's the account number and password”, they asked. “I have it here”, I say. I rang every staff member down to the new secretary who had only been in post for six weeks and informed them of the situation, I rang our health and safety advisers. I had the numbers for every health board contact I needed. I followed the procedures within and called the police and relevant authorities.

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Meanwhile two of the GPs had dumped their vehicles and walked into work. All day, the three of them worked tirelessly to save computers and keep the water from rising, I asked them to leave the building on health and safety grounds, they wouldn't. Another GP and a staff member set up at the emergency centre helping patients and also those who were not. All hands on deck. The business plan did not leave my side, I answered hundreds of phone calls from worried patients. I rang the insurers and had our policy number to hand, a loss adjuster was appointed within hours, a disaster recovery team was sent to meet me in the morning with specialist dryers and cleaners. We didn't know but this saved us vital time which in turn enabled us to stay in the building. “What alternative accommodation would you use in an emergency?” was one of the questions asked myself when completing the plan. The old plan stated a community centre but this didn’t feel substantial enough to me, I sourced temporary accommodation and entered details of the most local company. At 9am the next day, a guy was sitting at our desk drawing up plans to bring a cabin that would house a nurse practitioner and phlebotomist for the next few months.

As I drove into St Asaph early the day after there was an eerie calm to the disastrous images. Debris strewn across the fields, gaping tarmac, and shops ruined, fallen walls, cars abandoned, homes and lives turned literally upside down.

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Work was unrecognisable. It smelled and the water had put up a good fight, it had almost won. Not quite.

The point of this short synopsis of that day is not hard to work out. Within two days the practice was back up and running despite the loss of half the building. We could have moved to a nearby hospital, we would have had three rooms and been situated five miles away from the majority of our patients. The practice wanted to provide something constant for our patients at a time when they needed us most. The team worked hard, some came in to work despite being told not to. We all supported each other with and we were determined to stay.

A make shift reception area was set up, computers moved, staff squashed into small rooms, clinicians working from meeting rooms and my room virtually became a store room. We just wanted it open. And we did, 48 hrs later. It took 2 weeks for the enormous portacabin to be lifted daintily into our compact car park, with inches to spare. Another two weeks for a further portacabin to be set up in the garden for storage. Alarms and phone lines and electrical points had to be installed. Tree surgeons were tasked with clearing spaces and power washers sourced to remove the deluge of mud. Heaters running up to sixty degrees dried out the building. Meetings with surveyors and designers took place and we were making decisions from what colour carpet we wanted to re-designing the whole reception area. All of this while still carrying out our normal jobs, running the practice, answering the phones, seeing patients.

The rest is history as they say. It's not a fast process; we hope to get our surgery back to fully working order by late May 2013. In the meantime we keep going, we work amongst the dust and diagrams and our patients really have been - wonderfully patient. There is a strong feeling of camaraderie and friendship and an unsaid mutual understanding of this quite incredible time when St. Asaph made the news on every channel for reasons you would not wish.

At the end of the day Pen-y-Bont just lost part of a building, some contents and some time. Elsewhere in St Asaph a life was also lost and families were left devastated with no home or belongings. A building does not compare. However, the surgery is an integral part of the community at any time and at this time even more so. It is your business, their business and everybody's business. We have a duty to protect it in the best way possible. I'm a new practice manager, just over 12 months experience and I can't and wouldn't tell anybody how to do their job but I would say one thing. Don't skip over your business continuity plan.

You never know when you might need it.

Tips on writing your business continuity plan.

  • Use a template like the one on FPM. This will save time and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Fill it in properly. Read it, make sure it makes sense to you and fits in with your business.
  • Think about the worst case scenario and generate ideas from your team on ways to deal with that.
  • Obvious - keep it updated, just run an eye over it every month or so.
  • Most importantly, make sure you have a copy outside of the building and also keep partners updated with a copy.
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