Manchester – 10 June
Delegates at this year's Manchester event were treated to one of the few days in 2008 that were blessed by sunshine, and the bright and spacious setting of the Bridgewater Hall served as an appropriately welcoming environment.
The keynote speech, by Colin Coulson-Thomas, an international authority on effective business leadership and an ambassador for Investors in People, was similarly positive. Mr Coulson-Thomas urged practice managers to drive and effect change in their surgeries, to become "leaders in general practice".
Despite many delegates sharing the sense that they were not sufficiently empowered to take their practices in a new direction, Mr Coulson-Thomas drew a powerful analogy with practice managers in accountancy and law firms.
"Just a few years ago, these firms were run as professional concerns by the partners, with the business aspects administrated by somewhat lowly clerical staff," he said. "Nowadays, most are all run as businesses by nonpractising, high-powered chief executives. Managers in primary care now have the potential similarly to lead and run their practices as successful businesses in coming years."
To achieve that goal, he continued, GP managers need firmly to unite to establish their work as a recognised profession – as opposed to an occupation – requiring the establishment of a uniform identity, standardised qualifications, self-regulation, as well as representation to healthcare and governmental bodies.
This vision of a unified profession was taken up by practice manager Kathleen Edwards during the afternoon panel session, in which she championed the establishment of a new representative body for practice managers. In the same session, there was certainly a unity of opposition against, at that time, newly introduced requirements for practice to open for longer hours.
One manager objected to the "presumptious way the government has introduced this," echoing the general feeling that it was a heavy-handed manner of negotiation over the changes to opening hours, rather than the requirement itself, that was opposed.
Among many strong speaker presentations, healthcare consultant Scott MacKenzie's "Five key steps to success with practice-based commissioning" stood out as a highlight. Mr MacKenzie gave a clear and accessible guide to the crucial stages of successfully redesigning pathways and driving engagement.
London – 3 September
In between the Manchester and London events, the final report of Lord Darzi's NHS review was published. Dr Kieran Sweeney kick-started the event in the capital, held at Islington's Business Design Centre, with a timely presentation that asked: "What will primary care look like in 10 years' time?" With speculation mounting at this time over polyclinics and their perceived implication for primary care, this presentation stimulated vocal concern from delegates over the potential threat to continuity of care, the traditional cornerstone of general practice.
Illuminating how primary care could undergo radical change over the next decade, Dr Sweeney drew an interesting comparison with the banking industry, pointing out that it's been 10 years since the introduction of online banking. If we consider the extent to which banking has changed since then, and how online services – including shopping and booking reservations – have changed the way we do things now, the transformation of public services becomes apparent.
Another highlight of the London event was management adviser Hilary Haman's popular and well-attended presentation on effective delegation. Hilary explored the issue of delegation in a lucid and practical way, outlining how good delegation is a way of developing and motivating your staff, rather than a means of offloading an unwanted workload.
Another popular session was David Clough's presentation on managing finance in a GP surgery. David, a chartered accountant and the chairman of AISMA – the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants – explained his definition of the "efficient" practice and the "efficient practice manager" – the latter being someone managing team members effectively, ensuring administrative efficiency and being capable of strategic financial thinking.
A new feature of all the 2008 events was the forum sessions, which enabled delegates to share their experiences and tips on topics ranging from HR and patient services to business planning and finance. In the London forum on HR, for instance, an enthusiastic discussion was prompted by pertinent questions from the floor: "How do you manage warring partners?" "How do you deal with underachievers?" "What types of teambuilding events do other practice managers organise?"
The Question Time-style panel session was another highlight. In an environment of pessimism about general practice, it was encouraging to hear positive comments. An assistant practice manager asked how she could study to become a fulltime practice manager – and, despite opposition to private providers demonstrated by our online surveys, one practice manager asked how she could go about seeking alternative employment with new GP providers, as her GPs were "resistant to innovation".
Birmingham – 8 October
The third and final event of the year, held at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, played host to the inaugural Management in Practice Awards ceremony, recognising excellence and achievement in general practice – see page 50 for an overview of all the winners of the awards.
It was appropriate that in his keynote address, Dr John Chisholm CBE, a vice president of the British Medical Association (BMA) and council member of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), urged practice teams to "tell the good story of general practice" – ie, to ensure the public are aware of the quality of GP services they have access to.
In a presentation focusing on the future of primary care in the context of the NHS Next Stage Review, Dr Chisholm argued that changes to general practice meant managers would have to become efficient at "social marketing": the application of marketing techniques to achieve a positive change in public behaviour.
Patient communication was a key part of Dr Gillian Braunold's update presentation on the Summary Care Record (SCR) and HealthSpace – a timely and informative talk, considering NHS Connecting for Health had only just announced that the patient consent model for the SCR had been revised following an evaluation of the programme. As Dr Braunold is the clinical director of the SCR and HealthSpace programmes, delegates could hear about the new consent rules directly from
Another highlight was a presentation by Kavita Oberoi, managing director of healthcare IT solutions provider Oberoi Consulting, on maximising income streams in general practice. Kavita recently starred in an episode of Channel Four's The Secret Millionaire, in which she went undercover to take part in a local charity project aiming to improve opportunities for local teenage girls. Kavita shared her insight into how practices can improve their income through service redesign and improving Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) scores.
The afternoon panel session continued this year's theme of trepidation in a new era, as one delegate asked: "Will there be a place for small practices in the new order of general practice?" Dr Chisholm, a member of the panel, was upbeat, pointing out that the current chair of the BMA's GPs Committee, Dr Laurence Buckman, is himself a GP at a single-handed practice, "so he's hardly going to roll over and let small practices be abolished". He also claimed primary care development posed a challenge for larger surgeries: how can they deliver the same continuity of care that smaller practices do?
As always, the event was marked by a spirit of co-operation and support among practice managers – not only in the celebratory awards ceremony and forum sessions, but in the exhibition spaces as well, with managers networking and sharing their experiences.