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Covid has been a learning curve for PCN clinical directors

learning curve

Dear editor…

I’ve been reflecting on the lessons learned about communication, particularly for those co-ordinating the network response to the pandemic. As GPs we have slowly mastered the art of communication with our patients. Most GPs involved in teaching will have watched a student explain a difficult diagnosis badly or fall into well-worn pitfalls like overly technical language. Gently explaining how to improve this is rewarding as a teacher. This humbling and infuriating pandemic has been a masterclass in communication.  

Over a period of weeks, many of us have gone from novices in video conferencing to, as one colleague put it, ‘black belts’ in Skype and Microsoft Teams. We have been challenged to communicate with colleagues we have never met, in the middle of a crisis, by Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams chat and video. 

There has been a huge challenge in developing a relationship quickly and effectively under pressure to achieve complex goals. I visited our network’s planned vaccination hub in December to meet a manager, a CCG representative and someone from IT. After 15 minutes we were in a stand-off of frustration. We had failed to recognise this needed a crisis management approach.

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I kicked myself afterwards, sure that a member of an NGO in a global health crisis would have taken the first two minutes to clarify names, roles, expectations of the visit and time available. We should have done this and saved time and heartache.

There have been numerous other challenges. How do you communicate with a large population? How do you keep people up to date but not overwhelmed?  How do you frame problems so that people work constructively with hope? How do you tell your staff difficult news? And of course how do you take all that learning of patient consultations and apply it to phone calls and video?  

It has been a difficult year. The ‘command and control’ style of national communication has been especially hard. But the learning has been huge. Even when things haven’t gone as planned, I think they have added greatly to what we know and how we communicate.  

Dr Tom Holdsworth GP, Mosborough Health Centre, clinical director, Townships Neighbourhood PCN, Sheffield, South Yorkshire