How CCGs and federations can ease the strain of winter pressures

Article posted on 30th October 2017

Health and social care

As if the nights getting longer and the days getting colder aren’t enough to deal with, the winter months also bring with them a whole host of illnesses for us to catch. From annoying tickly coughs to more serious bouts of the flu, there’s plenty of things around that’ll mean a trip to the GP practice.

While it’s hard for us to suffer through our ailments, those who work in healthcare understand that seasonal sickness is hard on providers too. It’s why in our last article, we looked at what practices can do to deal with the pressure.

This time around we’re expanding our scope a bit further. That’s because CCGs and federations also have a big role to play in improving efficiencies and patient experience during this difficult time. Whether it’s keeping staff informed or connecting care across areas, we’re examining all the ways that they can support their member practices.

Create consistent messaging across your practices with digital systems

Exemplified in directives like the Five Year Forward View, most of us are aware of the centralised push towards delivering digitised care. But not all of us may know just how useful digital systems can be when dealing with winter pressures.

Easily overlooked, something as simple as setting up social media accounts for your organisation can prove really beneficial. Perfect for those looking for budget-friendly ways to get the word out about winter-specific health campaigns, these can be used to back up the information that may have already been spread by your practices through other means. It’s a nice interactive way to get the word out too, as you can post videos on Facebook or infographics on Instagram that can get patients engaged in managing their own health. And since your member practices can easily share this information on their own accounts, it keeps messaging accurate across areas.

If you’re keen on this idea of keeping messaging consistent, there’s a range of additional digital tools that can help you do this. Systems like cloud telephony can be used to provide uniform messages to patients, while having backend control of your practices’ websites through a GP Web-enabled network means you can share identical content with everyone. Whether you want to let patients know about wait times or would like to share details about alternative services that may be more appropriate for their needs, it’s a convenient way to make sure the right information is put out there.

A healthy and informed workforce is key

Unfortunately it’s unavoidable that when staff are treating patients with contagious winter illnesses like the flu, they’re more likely to fall sick themselves. And with around 90% of all NHS patients relying on primary care services, staff shortages across your practices are the last thing that’s needed – especially when there’s increased demand.

90% of patient interaction statistic

The situation also isn’t helped by the low take up of free staff vaccinations. Despite NHS bosses recently writing to all 1.4 million staff to say that they must have the winter flu jab, in some organisations as few as 20% of staff took up the offer. It’s not just staff numbers that are affected by this either. Patients can easily catch the virus from their clinician, and for those already vulnerable, the illness can be life-threatening.

It’s clear that ensuring as many staff as possible get vaccinated is therefore a pressing concern. Although keeping tabs on who has had a jab in a large workforce can seem like a daunting task, there are back-office systems like Intradoc247 that can support you with this. By consolidating various practices’ documents into one place and allowing you to create checklists for managers to complete, it gives you and your practices greater insight into where everyone is at.

Since staff can have access to these systems too, you can use them as part of your wider information-sharing strategy. This could be used to further support your social media plans, as you can upload digital toolkits like the ‘stay well this winter’ campaign that practices can share to highlight services to patients. Alternatively, you could add documents that detail good hygiene to stop the spread of illness or include staff procedures. Whatever messages you want to spread, it gives you the option to keep staff across all areas fully supported.

Connect care across your practices

Even when taking some of the measures above, you’ll never be able to guarantee that all of your staff stay healthy all of the time. Which is why it’s so important to make use of the connected care you can provide as a CCG or federation.

When staff numbers take a turn for the worse, a back-office system can further deliver the support you need by easily allowing you to take control of a practice's operations. With access to things like rotas and staff calendars, managers and high-level personnel are able to redeploy staff from better-fairing areas on the fly.

It’s important to think of the disruption to staff when doing this though – after all, clinicians will be travelling to new sites without their usual tools. That’s why it can help to look at the wider picture here, and consider systems like Practice Wi-Fi that can provide them with consistency. By giving staff access to the N3 Network, it means that they can still use their own healthcare systems and will face minimum disturbance.

See the video below about how GPs at SEL GP Group are using Practice Wi-Fi for mobile working in their federations practices.

And even if you’re without the ability to physically move staff to new areas, you’re not totally out of options. Web conferences could prove useful here as it allows your clinicians to remotely consult with one another. Alternatively, Video Consult will give you the ability to ensure that patients are still seen face-to-face, even if their newly assigned clinician is hundreds of miles away. 

Consider what will work for you, your practices and your patients

As we’ve seen, there’s a whole host of different systems and paths that can help your larger organisation better-handle winter pressures. That’s why it can be helpful to take the time to think over what changes will be most beneficial. After all, it needs be worthwhile to you, your practices and your patients.

Whatever you choose, with the above suggestions you can start to implement smarter, more efficient ways of working that’ll improve your population’s health – and will allow you to stop short the snowballing pressures of the winter period.

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