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Helen Gibson, Managing Director of Agencia

Agencia’s buddy system helps health workers cope with Covid-19 pressures

Primary care workers in practices across the UK are feeling the benefit of wellbeing sessions delivered by a business from East Yorkshire to help them cope with the combined pressures of Covid and the demands of day-to-day duties.

Karen Auty, a Practice Manager based in West Yorkshire, said she and her team take great comfort from patients’ gifts ranging from cakes and chocolates to masks and scrubs.

But a key factor in keeping Karen and her team going is the series of monthly huddles and mentoring sessions which support practice managers in their pivotal roles and have been introduced by Agencia’s Primary Care Direct service.

Karen said: “We are in a unique position, managing up with our GPs as well as down with our staff. These initiatives recognise that. They are about looking after us and sharing and building a support network with our peers.”

The practice in Brighouse has seen a significant increase in its workload with Covid queries adding to the general demand as Karen’s team support vaccinations at other centres.

She said: “We are busier but in a different way. We have put in an extra phone line and an extra person. There’s only so much we can do because we have to balance resources and the mental wellbeing of our team and staff morale.

“The workload has increased about 20 per cent in terms of demand but the pressures are immensely higher. Patient expectations are higher and you don’t see it physically in the waiting room but emails and e-consultations are up.”

Frustration sometimes builds among patients who are unable to use the internet to find answers to their medical concerns. The phone rings constantly and most of the calls are about Covid.

Karen said: “We think some patients are getting fatigued with the monotony of it. They want to sit in front of a GP, which isn’t always possible, but we also have a cohort of patients who are very supportive and bring treats in.

“We have a baker – a man in his 80s who brings cakes and pastries every week. We really appreciate it and he’s kept us going. We have had people doing scrubs for us and patients who have made us face masks. Someone drops us chocolates in now and again but it’s not just physical things. We have had a lot of thank-you messages and people generally being very supportive.

“The feedback from the centre which is doing the vaccinations is really uplifting, with patients so grateful for the friendliness and efficiency and telling our colleagues that after 10 months being stuck at home they can at last see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Relief came for Karen when she took part in a game of “wellbeing bingo” during the launch of Primary Care Direct’s wellbeing service and won the top prize of a series of one-to-one consultations with Helen Gibson, Managing Director of Agencia.

Karen said: “The sessions are going really well. It’s different from talking to a peer. Helen knows a bit about primary care and she’s got a different outlook on things.

“It’s just an ear, or a different way of thinking about a problem or scenario or how you are feeling and what’s making you feel like that. How to fix things that might be pressuring you, looking at what might be stopping you from sorting out a problem. It’s good to have someone there who isn’t involved.”

Primary Care Direct came up with the idea of the huddles to help support its teams working in practices across the country. The initiative was opened to people outside Primary Care Direct’s membership as recognition grew that the huddles provided information and guidance hubs for people in the front line.

Helen said: “For the last three years we have been supporting practice managers and GPs with a lot of their strategic work, business planning and support with the workforce, providing consultancy services. As Covid has hit we have been rolling our sleeves up and supporting operational delivery.

“The ultimate goal is to get as many vaccinations done as we can and we have been doing a lot of work to support that. Also because we work nationally with more than 75 practice managers we have become an information hub, a practice manager buddy network and an opportunity for very informal, unrestricted chat where people can raise any issues they have and talk to other managers nationally.

“From these sessions we learned that a lot of practice staff have been very hyped up and many have become exhausted. Practice managers don’t want to tell their superiors if they are struggling so we created this wellbeing service because we recognised that some non-clinical staff were at risk of burnout. They can now access one-to-one mentoring through the wellbeing service and peer support through these huddles.”

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