Do you meet the needs of self-pay patients in your private practice?

Do you meet the needs of self-pay patients in your private practice?

There are a number of articles in the press regarding the current demands on the NHS resulting in increased waiting times. A recent BBC news article suggests that long NHS waiting times appear to be pushing people into paying for private treatment. Data suggests that there were 69,000 self-funded treatments in the UK in the final three months of 2021 – representing a 39% rise from the same period before the pandemic. 

Given this, we look at 5 things private practice should consider to meet the needs of self-pay patients. 

1. Consider the needs of self-pay patients  

The headline numbers, which currently suggest 6.6 million people are on NHS waiting lists, lead us to believe that this will result in an influx of patients turning to private healthcare for treatment. While this assumption will no doubt lead to more private patients as people seek out alternative treatment options, it is necessary to consider other factors. 

Not all patients facing long NHS waiting times will have the funds to turn to private healthcare, especially with the current increase in the cost-of-living crisis that adds even more financial pressure.  

To be effective, a private practice needs to consider exactly which patients they are trying to attract. Considering the exact patient profile and developing an understanding of what they are looking for will mean services can be tailored specifically to those looking for private healthcare. 

With the added financial constraints faced by many, offering treatment payment plans is likely to be a key consideration for many self-pay patients. 

2. Understand the private healthcare market  

Developing an understanding of the conditions within the current private healthcare market will assist in creating an effective strategy for private practice.  

In addition to the higher demand for services from patients, recent figures from PHIN suggest that there is a 12% reduction in the number of active consultants in private healthcare from July-Dec 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.  

With the increase in demand from self-pay patients due to NHS waiting times and a reduction in the number of private consultants, there is likely to be an increased number of enquiries received from patients seeking advice and treatment.  

If systems and staff capacity in are not available to deal with an increased number of patient enquiries within private practice, this could have a negative impact.  

It is vital to develop a robust business strategy that includes reviewing receptionist and PA capacity to ensure an adequate number of experienced staff are available to respond to enquiries and manage the treatment journey of self-pay patients. 

3. Keep a clear and consistent message  

By understanding the needs of self-pay patients, it is possible to develop a clear and consistent message that relates to your audience. 

If you specialise in diagnostic testing it would be beneficial to develop specific offerings that will make these services relevant. For example, tailoring specific well-woman or well-man health screening packages rather than simply listing individual diagnostic tests that people may not understand. This helps present what you do in an easy-to-digest format.  

It is also important to make sure that you highlight the key aspects of your service and address the key issues that self-pay patients have. Most potential patients will want to know about your practice and experience, how quickly they can be seen, what is involved and how much it will cost. 

Presenting this information in an upfront and clear manner will help inform patients about your practice and lead to enquiries from those that are looking for a treatment that you provide. 

4. Develop an effective online presence 

Given that there are fewer active consultants in private healthcare and there is likely to be more demand from self-pay patients looking for treatments, it is essential to make sure your practice can be found by these patients. 

Data from PHIN suggests that while London continues to be the most active self-pay market, there has been increased demand in other geographic areas. Self-pay patient numbers between October and December 2021 compared to 2019 have increased 90% in Wales, 84% in Scotland and 75% in the East Midlands.  

This means that offering services remotely and attracting enquiries from these growing geographic areas is a crucial factor to consider.  

The best way to do this is to have an effective online presence, which starts with having a website that clearly outlines what you offer. It is then necessary to ensure your website is found by those self-pay patients looking for treatments. There are many ways to achieve this but implementing a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Content Marketing Plan will help ensure your website attracts enquiries from your specific target audience.   

5. Monitor and review  

It is vital to monitor and review all activities to determine how effectively your private practice meets the needs of self-pay patients.  

Performing patient surveys, monitoring call enquiries, and reviewing marketing activity will help develop a better understanding of what elements are working and where modifications might be necessary.  

For example, monitoring website visitors and where this traffic is coming from will help inform whether your current strategy is working and more importantly provide insights into what potential patients are looking for when they visit your website. 

Regularly monitoring and reviewing these aspects of your business will help to tailor your service in a way that meets the needs of patients.  

 Summary 

There is no doubt that the increasing NHS waiting times will lead to an increase in the number of patients turning to private healthcare. The challenge for private practice is to ensure it understands the demands of this market and can effectively attract and deliver treatments to these patients. 

Achieving this requires developing a robust strategy that includes ensuring effective levels of experienced staff to deal with an increase in patient enquiries looking for treatment advice. 

With the demand for self-pay treatment increasing in other geographic areas in addition to London, there is a need to implement effective marketing to reach patients in these areas. Developing an effective online website presence together with ongoing monitoring will better place private practice to meet the needs of self-pay patients. 

At Designated Medical we are experts in providing flexible, experienced support for all your private practice needs. An integrated approach allows our carefully selected team members to embed into your practice, allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional service and care for your patients. Our experts offer bespoke support across Accountancy, Bookkeeping, Medical PA and Marketing. Our team can work to suit your requirements – tailored to your practice, as and when we support is needed. 

 

Contact our Marketing Director Michelle Wheeler to discuss your needs.
michelle@designatedgroup.com
020 7952 1008
How to help your staff financially

How to help your staff financially

This article was written by Jane Braithwaite and originally posted on Independent Practitioner Today.

For the last few months, one of the top news stories each day relates to the increasing cost of living in the UK. The headline as I write is that inflation has hit the highest rate in 40 years and reached 9% in April 2022. Maybe by the time you read this it has gone even higher. Energy prices are increasing drastically as well as the cost of food, clothing and many other household items. As a result of the increase in inflation, the Bank of England raised the base rate of interest for the first time in many years, putting more pressure on homeowners with higher mortgage payments. 

With the additional increase in National Insurance, this is all putting a significant number of people in the UK under financial pressure. I think it is safe to assume that most employees would like a pay rise in their current job or they will start to look for a new role with a higher salary. As employers, there is a risk that we will lose staff if we do not take action to support our current employees.

Pay demand 

Most employees will be demanding a pay increase at least in line with inflation so that they feel they are at least standing still in terms of their financial well-being. But for most employers, the prospect of giving every individual within their company an inflation-based increase is simply not a possibility. Offering every employee a pay rise in line with inflation is not only difficult for most employers to deliver, but economists would warn us against doing so for other reasons.  

Now, I am no expert when it comes to economics, but my understanding is that economists caution us against increasing salaries across the board, as it would allow spending to continue at current levels, which will cause inflation to continue to rise resulting in a vicious circle. I am happy for anyone to question this, of course, as many readers of Independent Practitioner Today will have a far deeper understanding of the issue than I can claim to have. Research shows us that one of the most common causes of stress for individuals is their financial well-being and this is going to become a major concern for many more in the coming months and potentially years. 

Extreme stress 

As employers, we also appreciate that if our teams are feeling stressed in their personal lives, they are not going to be able to perform to the best of their abilities in the workplace and extreme stress can also lead to a higher absence rate from work due to ill health. 

So, what do we do to support our employees through this difficult time? If increasing salaries in line with inflation are not possible and not advisable, then what do we do as employers? Maybe the answer is to increase salaries where possible by a margin not in keeping with inflation but enough to try to alleviate the situation for individuals, especially for those on lower salaries. There may be other ways in which employers can help by thinking beyond the immediate issue of salaries. 

Several schemes may be relevant to our employees, including season ticket loan schemes which aim to help employees where the cost of commuting is a major budget item. Research by the company Employee Benefits confirms that this is one of the most common benefits offered by employers, with 59% of employers doing so. 

The season ticket loan is an interest-free loan for employees to cover the cost of travelling to and from the workplace via modes such as tram, rail or bus. Some schemes can also be used to cover parking costs too. The loan repayments are paid monthly through the employee’s net pay over a set period.

For keen cyclists, the cycle-to-work scheme could be an attractive possibility. It allows employees to save 26 to 40% on their bikes and accessories. The employee has no up-front payment and the monthly payments are taken tax-efficiently from the employee’s salary by their employer. 

Tax breaks

During the Covid pandemic, when we were all advised to work from home if possible, the Government introduced tax breaks to help alleviate high energy bills. From April 2022, this tax break has been tightened and while some employees can claim, for many this is no longer possible. Without a doubt, heating costs are higher for those working from home and next winter this will become more of an issue. If the Government is not going to provide support for home workers, then employers may need to step up. 

For companies who have introduced a working-from-home strategy, there will be cost benefits associated with reducing the need for office space and a proportion of this saving could be passed on to employees to help with higher energy costs. A different type of approach would be to offer an Employee Discount Scheme to help employees save money on their purchases. These schemes offer employees discounts for products and services that they are likely to buy regularly. For example, one company called PerkBox offers discounts at Sainsbury’s and M&S.

The final suggestion is to help employees manage their finances more effectively by offering access to support services and financial training. There are lots of organisations and training providers offering such support and these could prove to be very helpful to some employees. But this type of approach needs to be handled with extreme care to avoid any suggestion that employees are being judged or criticised.

Tone deaf

In recent times, we have seen numerous politicians slated for their comments regarding individuals being unable to budget and unable to cook. It was even suggested that individuals solve the issue by taking on extra hours or an extra job. All of these comments appear tone-deaf to people who are working hard just to keep their heads above water. Everything I hear and read suggests that the cost-of-living crisis is going to be a long-term issue and so, as employers, we must do what we can to support our employees. 

One obvious solution for our employees will be to move to a better-paid job and so, if we do not take action, our biggest issue will be a recruitment crisis, which is time-consuming and expensive. Retaining our employees by supporting them will prove to be the best option for both employer and employee. 

If you have any specific questions that you would like answered in coming editions, please do get in touch. 

Companies that a doctor can use to implant the Cycle to Work scheme include:

www.bike2workscheme.co.uk
www.cyclescheme.co.uk

The cost of living crisis and what this means for employers.

The cost of living crisis and what this means for employers.

This article was written by Jane Braithwaite and originally posted on Independent Practitioner Today. 

For the last few months, one of the top news stories each day relates to the increasing cost of living in the UK. The headline this morning is that inflation has hit the highest rate in 40 years and reached 9% in April 2022. Energy prices are increasing drastically as well as the cost of food, clothing and many other household items. As a result of the increase in inflation, the Bank of England has recently raised the base rate of interest for the first time in many years, putting more pressure on homeowners with higher mortgage payments. With the additional increase in National insurance, this is all putting a significant number of people in the UK under financial pressure.

What does this mean for us as employers?
I think it is safe to assume that most employees would like a pay rise in their current job or they will start to look for a new role with a higher salary. As employers, there is a risk that we will lose staff if we do not take action to support our current employees.

Most employees will be demanding a pay increase at least in line with inflation so that they feel they are at least standing still in terms of their financial wellbeing. But for most employers, the prospect of giving every individual within their company an inflation-based increase is simply not a possibility.

Offering every employee, a pay rise in line with inflation is not only difficult for most employers to deliver, but economists would warn us against doing so for other reasons. I am no expert when it comes to economics, but my understanding is that economists caution us against increasing salaries across the board, which will allow spending to continue at current levels, which will cause inflation to continue to rise resulting in a vicious circle. I am happy for anyone to question this of course, as many readers of the IPT will have a far deeper understanding of the issue than I can claim to have.

Research shows us that one of the most common causes of stress for individuals is their financial well-being and this is going to become a major concern for many more in the coming months and potentially years. As employers, we also appreciate that if our teams are feeling stressed in their personal lives, they are not going to be able to perform to the best of their abilities in the workplace and extreme stress can also lead to a higher absence rate from work, due to ill health.

So, what do we do to support our employees through this difficult time?

If increasing salaries in line with inflation are not possible and not advisable, then what do we do as employers? Maybe the answer is to increase salaries where possible by a margin, not in keeping with inflation, but enough to try to alleviate the situation for individuals, especially for those on lower salaries.

There may be other ways in which employers can help by thinking beyond the immediate issue of salaries.

Several schemes may be relevant to our employees including season ticket loan schemes which aim to help employees where the cost of commuting is a major budget item. Research by the company Employee Benefits confirms that this is one of the most common benefits offered by employers, with 59% of employers doing so. The season ticket loan is an interest-free loan for employees to cover the cost of travelling to and from the workplace via modes such as tram, rail, bus, etc. Some schemes can also be used to cover parking costs too. The loan repayments are paid monthly through the employee’s net pay over a set period.

For keen cyclists, the cycle-to-work scheme could be an attractive possibility. It allows employees to save 26 to 40% on their bikes and accessories. The employee has no upfront payment, and the monthly payments are taken tax efficiently from the employee’s salary by their employer.

During the Covid pandemic, when we were all advised to work from home, if possible, the government introduced tax breaks to help alleviate higher energy bills. From April 2022 this tax break has been tightened and whilst some employees can claim, for many this is no longer possible. Without a doubt, heating costs are higher for those working from home and next Winter this will become more of an issue. If the government is not going to provide support for home workers, then employers may need to step up. For companies who have introduced a working from home strategy, there will be cost benefits associated with reducing the need for office space and a proportion of this saving could be passed on to employees to help with the increasing cost of energy.

A different type of approach would be to offer an Employee Discount Scheme to help employees save money on their purchases. These schemes offer employees discounts for products and services that they are likely to buy regularly. For example, one company called PerkBox offers discounts at Sainsbury’s and M& S.

The final suggestion is to help employees manage their finances more effectively by offering access to support services and financial training. There are lots of organisations and training providers offering such support and these could prove to be very helpful to some employees. This type of approach needs to be handled with extreme care to avoid any suggestion that employees are being judged or criticised. Over the last few days, we have seen numerous politicians slated for their comments regarding individuals being unable to budget and unable to cook. Yesterday it was suggested that individuals solve the issue by taking on extra hours or an extra job. All of these comments appear tone-deaf to individuals who are working hard just to keep their heads above water!

Again, I repeat that I am no economist, but everything I hear and read suggests that the cost-of-living crisis is going to be a long-term issue and so, as employers, we must do what we can to support our employees. One obvious solution for our employees will be to move to a better-paid job and so if we do not take action our biggest issue will be a recruitment crisis, which is time-consuming and expensive. Retaining our employees by supporting them will prove to be the best option for both employer and employee.

If you have any specific questions that you would like answered in coming editions, please do get in touch

Jane Braithwaite
MD of Designated Medical

At Designated Medical we believe that with the right professional team to support you, your possibilities are endless. That is why we offer flexible, experienced support for all your private practice needs. An integrated approach allows our carefully selected team members to embed into your practice, allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional service and care for your patients. Our experts offer bespoke support across Accountancy, Marketing, Medical PA, HR, and Recruitment and can work to suit your requirements – tailored to your practice, as and when we are needed.

Opportunities exist outside of the NHS.

Opportunities exist outside of the NHS.

Leaving the NHS

Planning to leave the NHS? For the huge number of doctors who say they are contemplating a move, Jane Braithwaite shares details of the support available that can offer a route to an alternative career path.

Article originally written for and posted on Independent Practitioner Today.

The last year has been a struggle for everyone in some respect, but for those working in the NHS the pressure of dealing with Covid-19 has been immense. 

We all vividly remember the battle to provide everyone in the health service with adequate PPE, so they felt some level of protection, closely followed by harrowing images of faces battered and bruised by long periods of wearing masks. 

Those working in primary care had to adapt to deliver a Covid-safe environment for patients and transform the provision of most services using technology to provide virtual consultations. 

As vaccines became available, GP practices and hospitals have worked something close to a miracle to ensure they can be administered throughout the population rapidly. 

We have recently seen a new campaign entitled ‘If I die, it will be your fault’, launched by the Institute of General Practice Management to call for an end to abuse from patients following their latest report, which concludes that most GP receptionists face unprecedented levels of abuse at work. 

And now the same NHS staff face the challenge of dealing with long waiting lists of patients whose treatment has been delayed by Covid.

 

Worrying report

A report earlier this summer from the BMA delivers a stark and worrying insight into how doctors are feeling right now, and the evidence is clear that many of them are unhappy and are considering leaving the NHS in the next year.

It said: ‘Thousands of exhausted doctors in the UK have told the BMA they are considering leaving the NHS in the next year, as many continue to battle stress and burnout without adequate respite from the exhaustion caused by the demands of the pandemic.’

Responses came from over 4,000 doctors and 31% of them stated they are more likely to take early retirement, which has more than doubled since the survey was done 12 months ago. Half of the respondents said they are more likely to work fewer hours and 25% more likely to take a career break. 

The survey also suggests a strong desire by many to continue to work, but in a different environment. Twenty per cent of respondents are more likely to leave the NHS for another career, with 17% considering working in another country and 14% more likely to work as a locum. 

If doctors follow through on these desires to retire, work fewer hours or leave the NHS for another career, huge resource gaps will develop in the NHS. 

 

Support available

Of course, over time, the desire for some doctors to leave the NHS may decline and the NHS pension may be an important factor, but for those who are considering alternative careers, I wanted to investigate and share details of the support and the organisations available that can offer a route to an alternative career path. 

Before considering the options, it is also helpful to understand the reasons why there is a desire to leave the NHS, as this gives useful insight into the objectives of doctors when seeking alternative careers. 

We often assume, when it comes to career choice, that money is the greatest motivator for most individuals. 

But the BMA survey showed that pay was quoted as the main reason for leaving the NHS by 29% of the respondents, while workload and personal well-being drew a much higher response. 

 

Heavy workload

Forty-four per cent of respondents looking to leave the NHS said that workload was a factor and 43% highlighted their own personal well-being. 

So in looking for alternative careers, opportunities that offer a more manageable workload and a better work-life balance will be hugely appealing. 

Of course, finances will be a significant factor for many and a great place to look for helpful information is Medics Money.

Medics money was founded by Dr Tommy Perkins and Dr Ed Cantelo to help doctors, dentists and other professionals make better financial decisions. Of particular note, Ed is a GP trainee and also a chartered accountant and tax adviser with nine years’ experience at accountancy firm PWC. 

On its website, you will find a wealth of resources in the form of articles and eBooks, but its most valuable offering is a series of podcasts in which it covers a huge range of topics of relevance to the profession. 

It’s latest offering, called ‘Episode 44 – The NHS pensions trap with salary sacrifice’, would be a good listen as would ‘Episode 25 – Using a limited company to save tax and invest to retire early. 

 

Private practice

One obvious option for doctors looking for a career outside the NHS is, of course, private practice, and with a greater desire for improved well-being and a more manageable workload, this is most definitely an option that may appeal to many. 

The aim of Private Practice Pro is to help doctors launch, run and grow their own private medical practice. It is founded by Mr Giles Davies, consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon, and Tom Davies who is a lawyer and former chief investment officer of Seedrs. 

Private Practice Pro offers a video-based course for doctors looking to set up in private practice with Giles acting as medical coach and Tom as a business coach.

The course is made up of over 55 on-demand videos complemented by 30 templates and guides and, for interested doctors, Private Practice Pro regularly runs webinars and small-group workshops. 

 

Entrepreneurial doctors

For the more entrepreneurial doctors, Doctorpreneurs is a global community of doctors, medical students and other interested individuals focusing on healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship.

In its most recent newsletter, it includes an inspiring interview with the chief executive and founder of Tympa Health, which is a London based start-up that has created the world’s first, all in one, hearing health assessment system. 

It also includes details of job opportunities across a wide range of sectors. This is a good place to start to understand the type of job opportunities that are currently available and it is an exciting discovery.

It is free to join, and you simply sign up on its website.

Changing career

My final suggestion is Medic Footprints, who provide ‘The world’s biggest gateway to alternative careers for doctors’.

This is again an organisation led by doctors, providing a wealth of information on their website regarding changing careers and connecting doctors with career coaches who can help manage the process. 

Their job board presents several exciting opportunities including some overseas roles that will appeal to those doctors interested in working outside the UK. 

You can join their community for free on their website or upgrade to their premium package for access to their series of webinars and a free CV review.  

In my search for supportive organisations for doctors when looking for a career change, I also discovered that the NHS provides further information on its website. 

Back in 2017, NHS England published a paper offering guidance for doctors looking to leave the NHS, which included a selection of organisations including Medic Footprints. 

In an ideal world, we would all like doctors to enjoy their career within the NHS and to want to stay, but right now it seems the best approach may be to ensure that the wealth of talent is not lost and is engaged in other rewarding healthcare careers that ultimately benefit the UK population now and in the future. 

In my role as MD at Designated Medical, I work with many doctors pursuing either a full- or part-time career in private practice and I would be happy to help anyone who would like to know more about getting started.

 

 

Nurture your staff’s mental well-being.

Nurture your staff’s mental well-being.

Mental Health

From the start of the Covid pandemic, we have been very aware of concerns relating to mental health and the increased number of people suffering from mental health problems.

This has largely been due to lockdown and the impact that has had, and we have heard how it has affected everybody, both young and old. More lately, we are hearing about the enormous toll on healthcare workers and some very concerning discussions relating to this.

As people who work in healthcare, we need to be very aware of the mental health issues employees – and we ourselves – may be experiencing.

It is important that we gain the best understanding so that as leaders, managers and role models, we can help and support our people – and to know what support is available for those who need it.

Before Covid, we knew mental health-related issues were the most common cause of long-term sickness in UK workplaces.

Surveys performed by the Chart­ered Institute of Personnel and Develop­ment (CIPD) in 2019 reported that the impact of stress, in particular, had increased, with 37% of respondents saying that stress-related absence had increased in the last year. They concluded: ‘Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost in 2018-19.’

As well as sickness absence, poor mental health at work can lead to increased staff turnover, reduced engagement and high absenteeism.

Mental health problems affect around one in four people in the UK in any given year.

As we recover from Covid, there is much evidence to suggest that the pandemic and measures taken to manage it, such as lockdown and social distancing, will have a significant impact upon the mental health of employees and the impact may be felt for months or even years.

How will Covid-19 affect our mental health?
We do not yet know what the exact impacts of the pandemic on our mental health will be. People have been affected in different ways: many feeling isolated, others are fearful about catching the virus themselves and also anxious about their family and friends.

Employees in healthcare have been working long hours with few rest periods in very difficult circumstances throughout the pandemic and have possibly not had the time or opportunity to reflect on their own well-being.

The workload in the healthcare sector is destined to remain high. As Covid numbers have decreased, many individuals have been involved in the vaccine roll-out and are now facing the pressure of addressing long waiting lists of patients requiring non-Covid treatment.

This long-term stress has taken a toll and continues to do so. Our best defence against mental health is resilience, but, to maintain resilience, individuals need time to recuperate and this has not been possible in healthcare and is unlikely to be possible in the near future.

Lockdown’s impact
Mind, the mental health charity, reported that over half of adults and over two-thirds of young people said their mental health declined during lockdown. Young people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions were particularly affected.

The health impacts of lockdown include findings of fatigue, musculoskeletal conditions, poor work-life balance, reduced exercise and increased alcohol consumption. In relation to workplace mental health specifically, employees were reporting reduced motivation, loss of purpose, anxiety and isolation.

Evidence from previous quarantine situations also suggest that there are long-lasting effects on mental health.

Independent Practitioner Today is currently serialising parts of the book called Beneath the White Coat – Doctors, their minds and mental health, edited by Dr Clare Gerada, first published in 2020 (see page 42). In the book, the stress experienced by doctors is examined using supporting evidence and real-life case studies and offers practical steps for doctors to recover and thrive in their roles.

The book also demands policy-makers, government and hospital management ensure doctors are looked after and have access to the resources needed to ensure they remain healthy.

Working from home
Many people have been working from home during the pandemic and while most have found this to be more productive, still one-in-three people have found the opposite, according to research by MetLife UK.

Almost one-in-three (32%) workers admit that their productivity has declined as a result of the shift to home working. Of these employees, two in five (41%) believe that their mental well-being has impacted their productivity levels. The impact is understood to have been more apparent for younger groups aged below 30 and also older women aged 50 plus.

There is also a marked difference between the statistics reported by employees and those reported by employers. Employers believe there has been a greater decline in productivity, with 56% of employers reporting that they perceive their employees’ personal well-being has impacted their productivity levels. This is significantly higher than the 32% of workers who reported their productivity has declined.

Productivity is absolutely key in any business, including healthcare, and therefore it follows that we should be concerned about our employees’ mental health and how this affects the productivity of our teams.

We need to do our best to understand the issues that our teams are facing and support them by implementing management strategies to reduce the impact in the workplace.

Understanding the issue
As mentioned previously, there seems to be a huge amount of information stating the enormity of the mental health problem caused by Covid, but there does not appear to be much research yet giving us useful data to understand the specifics of the issues and indeed how to address them.

One of the greatest challenges is that individuals are often unlikely to ask for help when they need it, and this is perhaps more extreme for those working in healthcare, who feel they should be able to manage their own well-being.

As managers and leaders, we need to work hard to encourage openness and make it easier and more comfortable for people to ask for help.

HR management
Most larger healthcare companies will have in-house HR departments providing expert support and who will be defining organisational strategies to help their managers and leaders deal with mental health issues in the workplace.

For smaller organisations, there is less support available and managers will need to address these issues themselves.

In an attempt to provide a useful guide, our HR managers have provided some input that I hope will be of value.

What is workplace mental health?
Obviously, healthcare professionals have a much greater awareness of mental health illness, but it is still useful to define what we are dealing with in relation to the workplace.

Mental health, like physical health, fluctuates over time and there are degrees of severity. Symptoms include struggling with low mood, anxiety and stress, and we know stress can contribute to other illnesses.

Conditions include depression, anxiety, phobias and bipolar, which tend to continue over a prolonged period.

As employers, one of our objectives should be to help individuals feel comfortable in talking about how they feel. In doing so, we must avoid attempting to diagnose and instead focus on discussing how the issues impact the employee’s work and their work life with a view to agreeing a plan to provide additional support.

A range of measures will need to be introduced and a good starting point for any manager developing their strategy is to understand our legal responsibilities as an employer.

Legal duties
These legal duties set the minimum requirements and must be adhered to, but there is a wealth of evidence arguing that employers who go above and beyond will benefit from improvements in employee engagement, reduced absence, reduction in staff turn-over and improved organisational culture.

Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including mental health and well-being.

The UK Health and Safety Executive defines work-related stress as a reaction to excessive pressure or other type of demand placed on an individual at work. It is the employer’s duty to assess the risk of stress-related mental health issues arising from work and to take measures to control the risk.

Employees who have a mental health condition may be disabled and will therefore be protected from discrimination during employment as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, which may include amendments to working hours, location of work, changes to duties and the provision of additional equipment.

Prevention is always better than cure, but obviously, in the case of mental health issues, prevention is not necessarily within the employer’s control; however, there are early actions that can be taken.

Supporting the mental health of employees in healthcare, many of whom continue to work under significantly increased pressure making them more vulnerable to stress and other mental health conditions, is vital and it is warranted to take a pro-active approach.

Preventative measures largely relate to improving organisational culture by increased communication so that mental health issues can be more easily addressed and supporting managers by ensuring they are well informed, as they will play a pivotal role in the handling of any issues. (See box below).

Providing support
Managers need to know the typical signs and symptoms of poor or declining mental health exhibited in the working environment.

These can include the following:

  • Workaholic tendencies: Working long hours without breaks;
  • Increased absence due to sickness;
  • Any uncharacteristic behaviour: Emotional responses to situations which could include tearfulness or anger;
  • Withdrawing from others on the team.

Any of these behaviours in isolation clearly do not imply that an individual has a mental health issue, but they do provide an opportunity for a manager to discuss well-being with an individual, which could prove to be valuable in preventing a potential issue.

When a manager holds a one-to-one discussion with an individual, it is important they do not jump to any conclusions. Ideally, the conversation will start with an open discussion about how the employee is feeling, although we know that people are often reluctant to talk openly.

Within an organisation where mental health and well-being are discussed regularly, hopefully the employee will feel more able to be open and honest.

When an individual asks for help, it is important that help and support is made available in a timely manner.

In a large organisation, the HR department may become involved to provide support and potentially the occupational health team, if needed.

In a smaller organisation, it may be relevant to seek advice from outside organisations and there are many suitable providers.

Throughout any discussion of this nature, the manager must be non-judgemental. It is very clear that all people managers have a serious responsibility in their employees’ well-being, and they will also need to be supported and guided through this process.

Support available
The Chartered Institute of Person­nel Directors provides a wealth of information on its website and while it is not specific to healthcare, it is a valuable resource for all managers dealing with HR issues.

Specific to Covid, it is valuable to access the most up-to-date information and Cochrane produced a report, which was updated in January 2021, entitled ‘Supporting resilience and mental well-being in frontline healthcare professionals during and after a pandemic’.

The International Labour Organ­isation has also recently produced a report entitled ‘Protect the mental health of health and care workers in the Covid-19 pandemic’.

Finally, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has a page on its website summarising all of the organisations available to provide support in relation to mental health matters for those working in the healthcare sector.

Over the coming months, we will have access to much more data regarding the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. As leaders, we will need to learn and evolve to ensure we provide the best support possible so that we can continue to lead successful, high-performing companies and teams.

If you would like any further information in relation to this article, please do get in touch. I am always very happy to help and I am sure that my team of HR professionals will also be able to help with most workplace well-being questions.

 

 

Getting the best out of your team

Getting the best out of your team

As leaders, we want to lead high-performing teams and, as team members, we want to be working as part of them. 

Working in a great team is an absolute pleasure and has an enormous impact over how we feel about our work and the company we are employed by. 

Of course, the opposite is also true and working in a dysfunctional team is deeply negative and has a huge impact on performance. It can be enough to encourage individuals to leave and pursue other options.

So how do we establish a great team, how do we lead one and how do we play our part in contributing to the success of the team?

Let’s start by exploring some examples of great teams. The sporting world is a good place to begin. Anybody who is loyal to a particular team or club will know all too well the highs and lows associated with team performance. 

When a team is failing, the manager often gets put under enormous pressure and the result can be a swift departure, as experienced by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur FCs’ head coaches Frank Lampard and José Mourinho this season. 

 

Winning strategy

Many of us have recently enjoyed the Six Nations rugby championship and each team taking part has been analysed by professionals, the media and all of us at home watching. Each team has its own characteristics, with Wales being admired for their grit and determination while England was heavily criticised for a lack of discipline. 

Back in 2003 when the England ruby team won the Rugby World Cup, the team was led by Sir Clive Woodward, who helpfully shares his winning strategy. 

Woodward says that ‘great teams are made up of great individuals’ and he focuses on creating a winning culture and claims a formula for creating ‘champion individuals’.

Woodward lists four key criteria to create a winning team:

Talent – individual talent;

Teachability – ‘It’s often the most experienced person who is unteachable’;

Pressure – the warrior spirit;

Will – commitment to win. 

In his 2003 team, Woodward describes having five champions and ten warriors, and he highlights the importance of coaching on two levels: for individuals and for the team together.  

Woodward’s approach was clearly successful and he continues to support sporting organisations but also offers coaching and consultancy to business executives. 

 

Significant improvement

Another team strategy brought to our attention is the ‘aggregation of marginal or incremental gains’. The strategy works on the premise that if we can improve every aspect of a team’s performance by 1%, the overall result will be a significant improvement. 

This approach was highly publicised following the success of the British cycling team in 2008 and 2012 and although its achievements are being questioned, the strategy is still popular in the business environment. 

One of my personal favourite sporting strategies that has been embraced by business is described in the book Will it make the boat go faster? as described by Ben Hunt-Davis in which he documents how his team adopted this strategy and subsequently won the gold medal in the rowing eight at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

I like this, as it is simple and can be used to immediately ensure everyone on the team is on the same page. 

In business, we might use this strategy to achieve a project within tight time-scales or to focus on a particular aspect of our service – for example: ‘Does it make the patient experience better?’ or ‘Does it make the treatment safe?’ It’s a great way to ensure focus and gain momentum to achieve short- and medium-term goals. 

 

Learning opportunities

These examples of sporting successes in team performance provide plenty of interesting learning opportunities that can be adapted for business and we may pick up ideas from numerous sources as we create our own leadership and team management strategies. 

Each of us can use best practice to influence our leadership style, but, ultimately, our approach will be unique to us and our personalities. 

As we build our own style, it is important to break down the aspects of teamwork and ensure we consider each aspect to build a good all-encompassing approach. 

Reflecting back to the wise words of Sir Clive Woodward, we can consider the four elements of team success that he bases his approach on.

1. Talent

To create the greatest team, we want to have the greatest leader and the most talented individuals.While this might be realistic for Chelsea FC, most of us are restrained by factors such as money, availability of talent, and geography. 

In the real world, what we really need to aim for is the most talented individuals available to us and ensuring that each individual delivers to the best of their ability.  

A team also requires a group of people with differing but complementary talents. 

In a healthcare setting, our teams potentially comprise doctors, nurses, administrative support and business managers, all of whom have very different skills and have been educated differently. 

All these individuals must find a way to work together to the benefit of the patient. As well as having differing skills, a team will also be home to lots of different personality types and character types. 

Some people are eternal optimists, always anticipating the best possible outcome and seem oblivious to any potential barriers. Others will be the complete opposite, preferring to plan for the worst-case scenario so that all bases are covered and prepared for. 

 

Opposite types

When two people of opposite types such as these come together, they can either create a perfectly balanced partnership or they can find it impossible to work together and hit a brick wall. 

Another potential conflict can arise when one person is an ideas person and another is a detailed planner. The detailed plan that is essential to one person can be viewed as a barrier to progress and a time-wasting activity to the person who has the great idea and wants to get on with delivering it. 

Again, a balance of these two styles is ideal, but how do we bring different personalities such as these together to work collaboratively? 

In last month’s article, I talked about leaders needing to develop self-awareness and to understand their natural style. I suggested using psychometric profiling tools such as Myers Briggs and C-me profiling and, again, these tools are equally relevant to individuals working together as a team. 

Once an individual understands their own style and also the natural style of others on their team, they can learn the right way to communicate and work with one another to achieve success. 

The ‘ideas person’ learns that by listening to the detailed-oriented individual, their idea has a far greater chance of success as a result of the detailed plan that will be developed ensuring that every outcome is prepared for. 

 

2. Teachability 

An ability and willingness to learn is an important attribute for all team members. 

Too often, we associate this with more junior team members, but actually it is relevant to even the most senior members of a team and Woodward is quite right when he states: ‘It’s often the most experienced person who is unteachable’. 

To work well as a team, every individual needs to be prepared to adapt their ways of working for the good of the team. The well-known management phrase: ‘It’s my way or the highway’ might feel powerful, but what if there is a better way?

3. Pressure 

When Woodward says pressure, what he really means is the ability to perform under pressure and he believes the only way to ensure an individual and therefore the team can succeed under pressure is to practice by exposing the team to pressure regularly. 

He uses role play requiring the team to work through every eventuality to ensure they know exactly what to do in each situation. This easily relates to complex surgical procedures and can also be adapted to the business environment – for example, the launch of a new service, clinic or company. 

Personally, I would also argue that all teams must think about how to recover from being under pressure and build resilience. It is clearly not possible for any individual or team to perform under constant pressure. 

We need to build in mechanisms for recognising long periods of extreme pressure and have plans to relieve it and allow recovery. 

This may involve adjusting holiday allowance, time off in lieu or activities within the working day to allow for recuperation, but they must be built in. This will be the topic for my next article. 

 

4. Will 

A team needs to be driven by an agreed goal or objective and to share a joint motivation to succeed and achieve the goal. This is why the strategy of ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ is so effective, as it aligns the whole team to one clear, simple goal. 

If a team has one or more members who doubt the goal is achievable, then this will have a draining impact on the team’s morale and reduce each person’s motivation to succeed. 

 

Summary

It is said that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ and we all agree wholeheartedly, but achieving the dream requires an investment of effort on a consistent basis. 

The most talented individuals might be individually amazing, but unless they can work together as a team, their talents can be wasted. 

Humans are tribal and evolved working together in teams, intrinsically knowing it makes them more effective and ultimately our lives more enjoyable. 

In recent months, we have seen an increasing number of reports of the effects of Covid on mental health and this is particularly apparent within the health care community. 

 

January Stay Connected

Subscribe To "Stay Connected" our Monthly Medical Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!