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e-mail service designed to help practice managers has been introduced by the National Association of Primary Care ­ Maggie Marum reports

Hard-pressed practice managers struggling to get to grips with the new contract can get help on all non-contract management issues thanks to an initiative developed by the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC). They can be helped on negotiating contracts with PCTs, job descriptions, and much else. The service includes the ability for the NAPC to diagnose the support required and to identify the way in which that support is provided on a case-by-case basis.

Support is provided to practice management via e-mail, telephone and website advice, as well as by specially selected support practices. These are called into play if the NAPC cannot deal with the problem satisfactorily.

It was initially envisaged that some practices might need ongoing support for a lengthy period of time to address any significant deficiencies, something that would have been beyond the scope of the intitiative, but NAPC says this has not yet proved to be the case.

There are five support practices. The criteria for their selection included a wide range of features, for example: patient-focused; extended range of services; geography; a minimum of 750 aspirational points at time of selection; good local relationships; well-developed primary health care teams; a balance of leading edge GMS/PMS practices.

The service provided by NAPC complements rather than duplicates existing National Primary Care Development Team/Modernisation Agency provision. The NPDT/MA helpline provides responses to queries related to guidance, whereas NAPC's service is broader 'peer support' to practices to assist with practice management developments. Where inquiries specifically relate to guidance, callers are initially referred to the NPDT helpline. But many inquiries relate to the need for practical policies to meet the requirements of nGMS.

NAPC receives request for support through a number of routes, including directly from practices themselves and from Primary Care Co-ordinating Advisers. All queries are treated with the utmost confidentiality and referral to a support practice only takes place with the agreement of the originating practices.

Some of the requests for help have come from new practice managers seeking direction; others have come from managers with serious difficulties within the practice. But the requests for help have mainly been about access to policies, draft job descriptions etc, to enable the practice to be as prepared and organised as possible for its impending Q&O assessment visit.

NAPC in its central co-ordinating role logs all requests for help, diagnoses the support needed and either deals with the request directly or refers to a support practice. The number of requests for help is increasing steadily as the services becomes more widely known.

The NAPC believes the need for such a service will continue to exist beyond the life of the service level agreement. Many practices are under considerable organisational pressure as a result of the requirements of the nGMS/PMS quality and outcomes framework. It will take some time to bring those practices without highly-skilled managers and well-developed management and information systems up to the standard the Government expects of practices in the 21st century.

The criteria, which guided NAPC in

developing the model of support, were:

·Ease of access for practices

·Consistency in the quality of advice

·Practicality

·Speed of response

·User confidence

·Value for money

·Compatibility with the national programme of support

The model provides:

·A single co-ordinating point

·Consistency

·Accessible information

Further information

Maggie Marum: maggie@napc.co.uk

Maggie Marum is a consultant to the National Association of Primary Care

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