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Interview with FPM’s Practice Manager of the Year Linda Benn

Last year, First Practice Management sponsored the first-ever Practice Manager of the Year Award at the Yorkshire Evening Post’s annual Best of Health Awards. We caught up with winner Linda Benn, PM at Greystones Medical Centre, Sheffield, to learn more about what made her stand out from the crowd.

How did you feel when you found out you were nominated as Practice Manager of the Year?

I initially thought it was a joke when I received an email about the awards and asked one of the receptionists if she was being funny! I guess I didn't think I did anything special or different from all the other practice managers across the region, but the staff at Greystones have appreciated what I have done and it was them who initiated it.

…and then when you were announced as the winner?

When announced as winner at the lunch, it was an honour but humbling. I stood next to many worthy winners who do their job every day the same as I do, and we don't know how to do it any differently - it is who we are. If it’s appreciated by others who we work with or receive our care, well that's the best we can be.

What do you think has been your key strength as a practice manager that led to your success?

I’m not sure what makes me a success, there’s no benchmark to measure against. Each practice is different and I've set myself to encourage staff to develop themselves and do training. We encourage one another and have a weekly meeting, creating a team spirit. My staff can't care for patients if they do not feel cared for or supported. That's a key skill for a manager - to set the tone of trust and support.

I urge the team to come and talk to me about anything, whether it’s learning new skills, developing themselves or questions about the job. It’s about making people work in a joined-up way;  you can have a big gap between clinicians and receptionists, and being the bridge between different skill sets and roles is where your communication and people management skills come into play.

Tells us more about your experience… How long have you been a practice manager?

I’ve been here for just over 3 years – before that I was a project manager for an investment bank in Edinburgh. I found there were transferable skills in terms of managing people and managing tasks, they’re the skills you bring to this job that I’ve found most useful.

Managing a busy practice means that you cover a wide range of responsibilities. What do you find are the most common issues you're dealing with?

Communication and people management are the important ones - you always want a happy team that works well. You don’t want patients to walk into an ‘atmosphere’ because the staff aren’t happy - non-verbal communications can be really loud, they can see and feel body language.

I try to stay as accessible as possible for them, they can talk to me about anything - how we can resolve problems and develop them as much as they need. Some of our staff want to develop into HCAs or go down the clinical route, but others are happy with what they’re doing now. We make them feel valued, look at what they’re naturally very good at and encourage them with it.

What is the patient demographic like for your practice? What demands are there for you and your team?

We tend to deal with a lot of the ‘worried well’, as well as maternity services such as baby clinic, women’s health... a lot of the general issues associated with working class families in our usual demographic.

We do have access to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) for anxiety, counselling and mental health support for patients as well. Thirty years ago people didn’t feel they had that kind of support - you either went quiet or just ‘got on with it’, but now there’s a lot more available, people can open up and talk about it.

 

Tell us about your recent CQC inspection experience.

They liked that we had a counsellor and a listening service, somebody that can meet with patients to sit and process their needs and listen to their concerns – it keeps them from the GP appointments and with someone that can listen to them. It’s almost like a safe ‘holding zone’ while they are waiting for their IAPT appointment date.

As well, our baby clinic has a nurse, a health visitor, and a GP available, so when a mum comes in with their baby, they should be able to get everything they need in that one clinic appointment. They will be there with other mums as well and that helps to build familiarity with other mums in the community. That’s being responsive to what your demographic needs, and the CQC were impressed by that – we felt there was a need so we’ve tried to do what we can.

Another thing the CQC really liked was the checklists in our policies from First Practice Management. You might have a really nice policy, but they also want to see an induction checklist, to see things ticked off - do you understand chaperoning and safeguarding? That’s just a really smart way of showing compliance.

These last few years have seen a lot of change in primary care, and a lot of focus on general practice. What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Sustainability – we’re a single-handed GP Partner practice, so we need to be able to sustain the service and have a five-year view, when actually lots of things work on economies of scale. You can be meeting patients’ needs and ticking every box and doing everything the way you should, but you can still provide that personal service for patients who know they can walk up and you would know their name, because they’ve been here for years. That’s one of our strengths.

We couldn’t do a drop-in with a 10,000 list at the size we currently are, but we’re a small enough practice to be agile enough to put in some small-scale changes. It’s that sustainability for the future that would be a concern.

Sheffield are organised for the new 7-day access plans – they’ve already got the ‘Hubs’ set up for each area, and in our area we’ve established four GP practices in each quarter of the city. All the GPs take turns in manning it from 6pm to 10pm in the weekdays, and 10am to 6pm at weekends. It’s helpful to know that we’re on the front foot for that – as a small practice we could never have done a full 7-day service without that support.

                                                        Ann Ratigan, Linda Benn and Choire Wilson

You’ve obviously got a very successful, very busy and very popular practice here, and it’s a credit to you and the team for all the recognition you’ve achieved - what keeps you motivated as the Practice Manager?

To be honest, I quite like change - the challenges of something new, something a bit different, something exciting and interesting. Throughout the year there’s something different… winter pressures, QOF and so on. There’s a rhythm to the whole year which means every month has its own diverse need rather than the same thing all the time, and because I quite like being continually challenged, that does appeal to me.

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