The Secret to My Success: Award-Winning Practice Manager Kay Keane

It’s been an eventful year for Thornfields trainer and National Primary Care Awards practice manager of the year Kay Keane! We caught up with Kay to discuss her successful year, the focus on social prescribing she has put in place at Alvanley Family Practice where she resides as the practice business manager, and the future of primary care.

Hi Kay! It’s fair to say the Alvanley Family Practice is doing really well and receiving lots of recognition. What’s the secret to your success?

We strive to provide that focus in the community and be a stable factor to many people. I want to ensure that when our patients come to us we help them to find the right solution first time, be that joining our gardening scheme, walking with us or receiving a phone call each week just to check that they’re OK.

I guess as a practice we are happy to take some calculated risks - we believe that the answers to many patients’ problems lie in the community itself. We have patients who have been through so much and can act as experts, as well as having patients willing to give us their time and skills as volunteers. We are able to do so much more, without much more. 

You won an honorary fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts for your work at the practice to bring about social change. Is there anything in particular you put this down to?

I was astounded to be nominated for an honorary fellowship – my first thought was how can someone like me even be noticed, never mind be nominated and accepted!

All practice managers do a great job at spinning plates and balancing skills and budgets, I just chose to do this in an alternative way. Focusing on social prescribing and developing an approach that promotes wellbeing means we are able to address the 30% of patients who don’t need a GP, but still come to us as they trust us. 

The practice is certainly leading by example with its implementation of social prescribing events such as the Wednesday Wander and More Than Medicine. How did that start?

It’s been a reasonably quick and organic growth; we started with a Facebook page. Our waiting room is often filled with people checking their phones, and we noticed that they were “checking in” to a page that we didn’t manage – we wanted to be able to manage and control our social media presence a little.

Lots of my colleagues thought that it was a bad move because it would be another route for complaints. We don’t get public complaints! If we do have negative comments they are easy to solve and other patients can quite clearly see that we’re quick to respond and agile enough to make changes. It’s created a real community and we now have over 800 likes. From this we are able to trial ideas and find out the kind of things that our patients are interested in. 

Could you tell us more about how you came up with the ideas for the events you run?

The walking was easy, our patients wanted something safe and an alternative to the formal exercise programmes that we could refer them to, so we engaged with the Walking for Health scheme. Our HCA received free training and now walks every Wednesday at 12.00, come rain or shine. Again we had some comments about the cost and whether it really was something that a GP practice should lead, but why not? We now have five people through the walk leader scheme; three of them are patients, so we can develop the scheme further.

For “More than Medicine” (or as we call it in the practice, “Veg on Prescription”) patients can be referred to a scheme where they cook, grow and eat together. It’s a ten-week course and our patients love it. They are learning to eat more vegetables, cook with different ingredients and most importantly make new friends and gain confidence. The feedback has been great and we have, based on their desire to continue, secured an allotment plot. That’s one of our projects for 2018. 

How easy has it been to set these events up and keep them going?

We engaged with Altogether Better, who helped us to find a group of Practice Health Champions. They help us by volunteering within the practice and supporting the events. Individually they all said they had nothing to give – but actually they have so much. We’ve got gardeners, designers and a whole host of skills within the group of patients. It’s given us different skills to draw upon and is a much more positive forum than a PPG. I am able to work with them to set up schemes that they can then lead or advise on. 

What effect have they had on the patients and the practice team?

Sometimes it’s like being a party planner, but I wouldn’t change it. The practice is revitalised, we are all working together to do things differently. The GPs, nursing team and administrative staff all love this way of working, we have alternatives to medical treatment and we all believe that this is one of the key ways that we can become more resilient. 

Given the current climate in the NHS, do you feel these types of events - and social prescribing as a whole - will become more important in the future?

Absolutely. Patients trust us, but our capacity cannot match their expectations. By finding alternatives and working with them to understand their non-medical needs, like the things that appear on our Social Prescription, we are able to offer a whole programme of events and activities that support patients in a different way.

We want to develop our administrative team as care navigators - they will then have the confidence and skills to really understand individual needs and ensure that our patients really do get exactly what they want and, most importantly, the service that will support them best. 

What advice could you give to other practices who would like to start something like a Wednesday Wander?

There are really simple but effective things like the Facebook engagement and the walks that any practice can do without too much expense. It’s hard to decide when you have a list of jobs to do to choose the ones that are not marked “urgent”. Setting up a walking scheme would never have been in that list, but looking back choosing this way of working has really helped us to grow and build a practice that we think will sustain the near future of general practice. 

Do you have any exciting new plans to branch out into other types of social prescribing?

Yes, lots! I only have to go on Twitter, or read the newspaper, or talk to our patients and I’m full of them. To be honest ideas aren’t hard to come by, it’s making sure that we get the things we are doing right before we move onto the next thing. But I am working on something called “feed the birds” – come and ask me about it in three months and I hope I’ll be able to tell you more! 


As well as her fantastic work as practice business manager at Alvanley Family Practice, Kay is also a trainer for award-winning training providers Thornfields. Why not take a look at their broad range of primary care training courses?

The FPM Blog is the place to be for the latest news and information that matters most to practice managers, whether it’s learning more about maintaining your practice’s social media presence or the benefits of social prescribing.


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