GPs who invested their own money in the redevelopment of their Cornwall surgery were vindicated in their decision after the practice team won a UK award for their efforts.
Polkyth Surgery in St Austell was announced as the winner of the Design and Facilities Award at the recent ceremony of the Management in Practice Awards 2008.
The surgery's partners, Dr Paul Travis and Dr Pernell Tempest, had long recognised that their outdated 1980s practice premises were in need of expansion in order to keep up with their growing patient list and increased services, including a dermatology clinic provided via practice-based commissioning.
However, their primary care trust (PCT) was not forthcoming with funding for such expansion. So in 2006, the partners decided that they would invest their own money in a total refurbishment of the surgery's interior, to bring the building up-to-date and improve the patient experience and staff morale.
As practice manager Katrina Clemes explained, the surgery's premises underwent an "internal remodelling", transforming what was a "tired and antiquated" building into a bright, welcoming, modern facility.
The old waiting room and reception areas were rearranged so that the reception was now in an open, enlarged space. The new waiting room was also more spacious, allowing more light and room for patients.
"We replaced every single item of furniture in the building," said Mrs Clemes. New desks and seats were installed, as was a large flatscreen TV patient call system, providing information to patients while waiting.
To increase the number of appointments offered, the practice took the unusual step of actually reducing the number of consulting rooms from five to four. The GPs now "hot-desk" across each of the four rooms.
"We anonymised the consulting rooms so they're completely identical," explained Mrs Clemes. "By doing that, we now have a much more flexible rota and make better use of the space."
The fifth consulting room was converted into a "Doctors' Office" with three workstations. This is for the use of GPs not taking a clinic, and also acts as an informal meeting point for the doctors.
This has clear advantages, says Mrs Clemes: "The doctors are no longer working in total isolation, and everyone's aware of what each other's doing. From a clinical governance point of view, it's much, much better."
In addition to this, two small back rooms were converted into one "Management Suite" for non-clinical staff, and a new "Notes Room" was created for the practice's medical records.
The changes have meant the practice has been truly transformed. "We have a trainer who comes in once a year," said Mrs Clemes. "He came in prior to the renovation and afterwards. He said: 'It's a completely different surgery. It's like walking into a new building'."
Most importantly, the project succeeded in the partners' aim of improving patient experience. A general practice assessment questionnaire (GPAQ) conducted prior to the redevelopment showed that the practice had fallen below the national benchmark in 12 out of the 19 areas.
Twelve months after the surgery's transformation, results from the same survey showed the practice had made vast improvements in all areas, and was now equal to, or above, the national benchmark in 17 out of 19 areas.
"Patient satisfaction has improved immensely," said Mrs Clemes. "We're getting lots of comments that 'things are so much better now'. Patients are a lot happier and it's made a big impact."
Accepting the award at the awards ceremony held at the Birmingham NEC on 8 October, Dr Travis (pictured, left) said: "This means a lot to us and I'd like to thank all members of the team. We underwent a complete refurbishment, putting the customer – our patients – first. We also found all our staff benefited. It was a great experience."
Mrs Clemes said: "We were overwhelmed and overjoyed to win. Dr Travis and Dr Tempest were absolutely thrilled that someone had recognised what they had done and that all the blood, sweat and tears were worth it."
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