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Practice managers don’t have to stay below decks

 

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Friday, 1 October 2010

Practice managers don’t have to stay below decks

Practice managers often complain of being undervalued, can be touchy about their professional status and are keen to shed the image of telephonists, receptionists and gatekeepers to the GP.

The preceding paragraph guarantees an inbox full of outraged rebuttals from individuals protesting their professionalism, skill and experience and berating us for repeating worn out stereotypes.

What we meant to say, before you reach for the caps lock key, is that GP commissioning could be just the opportunity practice managers need to acquire new skills and elevate their career prospects.

Before GP commissioning can get going and start to deliver all the benefits envisaged by the white paper, practices have to make some fundamental decisions. Where do they want to be as businesses? How big a part do they want to play in commissioning? Where are their natural allies and potential consortium partners?

Practice managers could play key roles in this decision-making process and in helping the practice to make subsequent decisions about the shape and skill-mix of the organisation. For example, if their GPs are going to take an active role in commissioning, the practice had better start planning how they will manage the capacity gap. Practice managers themselves could elect to start moving into commissioning roles in which case they need to consider who will assume some of their existing duties.

Talk to some practice managers and they will tell you wearily that GP commissioning will mean more work for them, but hey ho, that's what they do. This stoicism is admirable but is a recipe for drudgery not brighter career prospects. Practice managers need to be flexible, capable generalists but they also need to be workforce planners for the practice and career planners for themselves.

There is still confusion over the basic issue that there will be distinct commissioning and provider organisations. While many GPs will move between the two worlds, many more will spend most of their days seeing patients, just as they do now. A GP recently summed it up: 'Some of us think we’re going to walk out of surgery in the morning and commission neurosurgery in the afternoon.'

Practice managers need to start thinking about where they may fit in this picture. For some, it might be roles as commissioning managers or even as consortia heads. But even those who choose to stay on the provider side of the house may see their roles change. They will need to respond to tenders, for instance, a function that will have a direct bearing on the growth and future viability of the practice.

Many of today's PBC consortia have practice managers on the board because their knowledge is valuable and because the clinicians know that they will get on and do what needs to be done.

These virtues will be just as highly prized in GP commissioning where the ability to run a tight ship will be crucial. Practice managers need to decide whether they are content to stay in the engine room or head for the bridge.