Practice Managers and GP Locums – finding and welcoming a stranger
The Christmas Holiday season is almost upon us, which means the anguished cries of Practice Managers will soon be heard nationwide in response to phrases such as ‘oh by the way, I’ve booked a fortnights holiday starting next week, could you organise a locum….’ And ‘I did tell you I’m off Skiing in France for three weeks didn’t I?’
Finding cover for a doctor’s absence can be a difficult and stressful experience for a Practice Manager. Firstly, it has to be done on top of the not so insignificant day-to-day task of actually running a Practice and secondly, being unsuccessful is generally not an option. However, with a little pre-emptive planning and research, the processes of finding and integrating a GP Locum can be made much simpler and much more effective.
Help is out there!
If your local sources do not prove fruitful in your search for a locum or your need is short notice then engaging the services of a Locum Service or agency can be very worthwhile.
Using an agency to undertake the search on your behalf has many advantages. A Locum Service such as Trust Locums will have a much bigger resource of locum doctors to call upon and they have the time to spend calling them all on your behalf. Plus, they are experts at this, it’s what they do all day every day.
They will search for exactly what you need and this reduces the need for compromise on the little things that might have cropped up with your own list, for example, they will find doctors who are fully competent with your computer system.
A Locum Service or agency can save a lot of time and hassle in general. It means you can get on with running the Practice instead of being on the phone chasing locums for availability whilst work and other tasks build up around you. The agency will have checked all of the Doctor’s documents and registrations and will have stored copies that they will be able to produce for you. This saves you the job of chasing the Locum for them before they start their sessions with you.
Most will be upfront and honest with you and will be able to tell you fairly quickly if they think they will be able to help you out. Ask them to provide you with regular updates so that you know how things stand and can plan for things with as much notice as possible.
Building a relationship with a GP Locum Service can prove to be very rewarding and important to a Practice Manager in the long term. Many Practice Managers find working with and using a GP Locum Service or agency to be the best option for them. They often find that they quickly build up a stable of regular doctors through the agency that the patients and Practice staff have become comfortable and familiar with. They are also much more likely to have a Plan B in place if something goes wrong with the original Locum.
Once a Practice Manager has an established relationship with a Locum Service/Agency the process of searching for GP Locum cover can be reduced to a 30 second phone call relaying the dates and times, making a cup of tea and then receiving a phone call back from the agency saying that the doctor you have had regularly over the last few months is booked and ready to go.
Covering all bases
It often proves sensible to try both your own resources and an Agency at the same time. This will obviously give you the greatest chance of finding the cover you need. Once you engage an agency it doesn’t mean you have to agree to take the Doctor they find for you.
So many problems can be avoided if thing are agreed in detail right at the very outset. Make sure that the GP Locum or the Agency asks you for details of your Clinical Computer system, the exact timings of the sessions you run and whether you need any on call cover or visits. Then you should agree charge rates with them and ask if extras like mileage will be charged. Communication is vital at this point, double-checking something or asking questions can ensure everything runs smoothly.
Once you have found and booked your Locum the task then shifts to making sure the time they spend with you is as productive and efficient as possible. This undertaking begins the moment the Doctor walks through the Surgery doors. A smile and a welcome always starts the relationship off well. Tea and biscuits buys a lot of good will too! A tour of the Practice is always helpful along with a run through of the emergency exits and drills.
If you feel you need to talk the doctor through things thoroughly before they begin their session with you, don’t be afraid to ask them to drop in 10 minutes early. Most locums will oblige as it is also of benefit to them too.
Take the locum into the Consulting Room yourself and physically show them where all of the medical equipment they may need is located and ask them if they are happy with what they have been provided with. Try to ensure all of the necessary stationery such as Referral forms is easy to find.
Have a well-prepared Locum Pack ready to pass to the Doctor. This will assist both you and the Doctor immeasurably. Put down on paper all of the information and procedures they are likely need, in an easy to follow manner then they will be able to just get on with things immediately.
The Locum Pack needs to contain a quick who’s who of the surgery along with the internal telephone extension numbers they are likely to require. Run through any access codes for doors, computer log on procedures, the systems for calling patients in, how your referral procedures work and your protocols for things like repeat prescriptions, bloods and ECGs. The National Association of Sessional GPs has an induction pack framework on its website that may prove a useful guide (www.nasgp.org.uk).
The tour of equipment and Locum Pack can help on many fronts. The Doctor will feel welcome and confident in new surroundings very quickly. It stops the Locums having to disrupt staff and their own train of thought to ask where things are. The smoother things run the better the standard of care is for the patient. It also simply looks better to the patient and prevents unnecessary negative reactions. Comments such as ‘that Doctor was terrible, he didn’t even know where the blood pressure machine was’ can create mountains out of molehills.
Continuity of care
The application of these simple ideas generally results in an effective working relationship between Practice Managers, Locum Agencies and GP Locums themselves. The Practice Manager can be happy because they know they either have an Agency that they trust to deliver or a file of local Doctors that they can call on when necessary.
The GP Locums are happy because they know they are going to a well organised and welcoming Practice that they are willing to return to time after time. This ultimately leads to better continuity of care for the Practices’ patients.
You will know you have got it right when patients begin asking for appointments with ‘that nice Locum Doctor’.