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Monday 26 September 2016
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Closer work in Wales

Comment: Final word

ELIZABETH SAUNDERS

Primary Care Consultant
Rhondda Cynon Taf

Elizabeth is a primary care training and development consultant. She has worked in primary care in Wales for more than 30 years. She is a member of the All Wales Practice Managers’ Conference Committee

At the start of the new financial year, managers in practices across Wales are doing their utmost to keep ahead of the game. What next? What changes this year? How will it all fit in with our business plans? Undoubtedly we are embarking on a tough financial period with much uncertainty ahead of us.

In Wales, we are keeping a close watch on what happens in England. The sweeping changes to the country’s primary care sector are causing concerns for many. I have listened to arguments from both sides regarding the management of commissioning secondary care services in England – some seeing it as a challenge and a great opportunity, others seeing only a return to fundholding by another name. It is my opinion that changes are needed, but they need to be appropriate and managed by skilled personnel. Many GPs in England feel they lack the necessary skills to undertake these changes.

Because of devolution, managers across the UK find various differences in the provision of healthcare services. There are always changes within the NHS, primary care in particular, and it can be difficult for managers in small organisations to keep up.

Due to just this kind of variance in the health service, 15 years ago several inspirational Welsh practice managers set up a conference in Wales to address these challenges, and the All Wales Practice Managers’ Conference Committee was born. The conference has been held annually and I am lucky enough to have been involved almost from the beginning, still regarding this as one of the most important events in the Welsh practice managers’ calendar.

It aims to provide networking for practice managers and support them through the unique challenges faced in Wales; we are privileged to be working with the Royal College of GPs on this project. Most importantly, networking allows us to make contact with our peers across Wales, with whom we can continue to share views and insights on the changing face of the health service.

A concern among many, at the time of writing, is that Welsh practices face the possibility of a new government and/or a new health minister after the elections on 5 May – what implications will this have for primary care in the country?
For others, the fact that no guidance has yet been issued with regard to cross-border issues with England – leaving primary care managers and clinicians in these practices uncertain as to how this will work for their patients at the interface of what will be two very different systems – is a serious issue.

As Rob Baron, Practice Manager in the Rhondda Valley, says: “One of the major challenges facing us this year is how we can encourage and nurture the concept of locality working in an area that has historically not been very good at working together.

“Closer working between practices will undoubtedly improve the provision of healthcare in our area, by increasing the breadth of services provided in the community – yet personal differences between GPs in the area may prevent this from happening. On a positive note, I am sure that the proactive practice manager network in the area will help to break down these barriers if the Health Board chooses to involve us.”

Rob’s views summarise the positive impact that a strong practice management network can have. Together we are better equipped to deal with the impact of change and can support each other moving forwards. This year’s All Wales Practice Managers’ Conference will be held in Cardiff in September, and will again aim to develop practice managers and provide them with the skills to take Welsh primary care forward in an uncertain era.