It’s time for a new breed of Practice Managers

There is much written about the future of general practice and the role of the GPs, nurses and the need to embrace alternative clinical skill mix for new models of general practice, but what about the practice manager?

The role of the practice manager (PM) has changed beyond all recognition in many practices over the last 3 years and I doubt that it will exist in its current form in the next 3-5 years, which is a good thing. Talk to any PM and they’ll tell you that the problem is that no two PM roles are the same. There is no standard job description or a set of core competencies in sight! It’s the one job in the practice that lots of people think they can do better but very few step forward and rise to the challenge. It is also the role that tackles everything that no one else has managed to sort out yet.

As general practice moves forward, just as GPs are likely to be working differently, PMs will have to radically change their approach to the role and how they do it in order to remain current and vital in their practices.

New models of practice and management

General practice at scale will give rise to professionals who can take an active role at the top table in shaping the organisations they manage. These will be true leaders, innovators and agents for change. They will support decision making that is right for the organisation and put aside their own needs to make things happen. The managers needed for the future of general practice will be collaborative across health systems, not just general practice. The generalist manager is probably a thing of the past.

Organisations in these new models will need specialists with expertise in many aspects of the business including finance and HR as a minimum. These individuals will need to be driven, determined, and passionate about what they do with energy and enthusiasm in abundance. The new managers will strive for a culture of continuous improvement in their organisations, leaving no process unturned in the search for more streamlined and efficient practice. They will have to be convincing, engaging, motivating and care a great deal about those they work with. They will also strive to achieve better outcomes for patients by putting them at the heart of the strategy. They will build solid and empowered organisational structures where others can thrive.

The future of the practice manager

In order to develop these skills, PMs will need to access very high quality professional training programmes, with an academic seal of approval, that support them to explore new skills that are fit for the future.

I dream of the day when you can walk onto any university campus and find a group of students who are studying to be professional general practice managers, such is my passion for our relevance.

Nipping off for a day a year to a PMs Conference or event won’t be enough. We will have to evidence sustained and continuous professional development to keep up to date with the pace of change. Just as clinicians have a profession, so do the types of managers that can support the future of general practice.

We will also need a national relevance too. Why shouldn’t PMs be actively lobbying for change, after all we are the ones managing the organisations that will carry out the Government’s vision? I see no reason why a PM could not hold a future role on the BMAs General Practitioners Committee, the RCGP Council, or indeed any other national GP-led organisation.

Is it time for a new breed of practice manager? I say yes it is! Can time-served receptionists still become managers? Probably, but only if they possess all of the skills and acumen needed to do the job. What will the job title be in the future? It doesn’t matter – call us whatever you like, judge us on what we do and the value we add. The rewards will be high but one thing I know for certain is that it won’t be for the faint hearted!

Sarah Longland is a highly experienced commercial and NHS senior manager with over twenty two years’ experience in HR and general management positions in both commercial settings and more recently in General Practice.

Currently a Practice Manager in a large practice in Southern Derbyshire, Sarah has also worked as Head of HR within BADGER GP out of hours’ services in Birmingham and most recently as General Manager of a 10 surgery super partnership in Birmingham.

Sarah has for the last 2 years, alongside her role as a practice manager, supported the merger of a 32 practice GP super-partnership partnership in Birmingham and held a board position with them as Interim HR Director, up to and since merger. Sarah has facilitated mergers in general practice at both a strategic and operational level and is now supporting another merger in North Birmingham.

She has also presented to the BMA General Practitioners Committee on the subject of the corporate GP partnership model and its benefits to patients and partners.

  • Wendy Garcarz
    Posted at 13:53h, 01 April Reply

    I have been saying the same thing for the last decade Sarah but too many PMs think that the required changes are limited to the different tasks they have to do and ignore the mindset shift required to become a truely strategic leader of a business. Get them to recognise that and your dream may become a reality.

  • june croll
    Posted at 11:16h, 27 April Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. I get frustrated a the lack of recognition within the medical profession both primary and secondary care of the importance of employing people with the correct qualification and skills to carry out the job. I am not in any way discrediting receptionists for the role they do as they are just as import as any other member of the team and bring their own set of skill to the job of receptionist/admin. I do however question the promotion of a receptionist to PM, if they lack the breath of knowledge to deal will running a business. After all that we are employed to do – run the business. I feel that a number of PM’s are put under a lot of pressure to deliver on the job by their employers who do not appreciate the complexities of the job and as a result the PM and the team end up stressed and rung out!

    I am very lucky here that the partners recognised that the role required for this practice was for a Business Manager that had experience of both managerial and strategic planning/implementation. Their emphasis was that they wanted someone who has the skills and knowledge to progress there business and allow them to get own with there job of using their skills and expertise for patients. Doctors are not trained to run a Business.

    My own background prior to coming to this post was one with a number of years experience in senior management (not NHS) and qualification that include CIMA, Post graduate in HR, Charter member of CIPD and IHM. All that said there is still more to learn and to keep my skill up to date with current thinking.

    I watch with interest to see how general practice progresses and in particular the role of Practice Manager and/or Business Manager.

  • Sarah Longland
    Posted at 21:31h, 27 April Reply

    Great to have supportive comments for this blog from those who are clearly like-minded professionals. I’m proud of the roles I have had in GP and I hope others are inspired to continue into the future – whatever that may hold!

  • Mm
    Posted at 21:30h, 02 August Reply

    NHS Education Scotland (NES) offer a qualification that starts people on the path supported by West of Scotland Uni and IHM. It’s a Vocational training scheme for new or aspiring GP managers that pairs trainees with an experinced manager close nearsighted to them. After that you can forward the credits in to business management honours and beyond. Not sure what they have unrest of U.K. As an equivalent but it’s a good place to start.

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