This article was originally written by Jane Braithwaite Independent Practitioner Today.
In a new series, Jane Braithwaite turns troubleshooter to answer independent practitioners’ frequently asked questions on business matters. This month, she takes up issues related to employing a medical PA.
I need to employ a medical PA, but I have never employed anyone before. What are my responsibilities?
Becoming an employer is an exciting part of the journey in establishing a private healthcare business and creating good processes as an employer from day one will ensure a positive experience. As an employer, you have responsibilities from a financial and accounting perspective as well as from an HR and management point of view. You must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as an employer before you are able to pay your first employee. You will need to decide what salary to pay and ensure you adhere to the Government rules regarding minimum wage. You will also need to check if you are responsible for registering your employee for a pension. Check that your employee has the right to work in the UK and also arrange any checks; for example, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. All employers must have employers’ liability insurance with a minimum cover of £5m.
Every employee must have a written statement of employment or contract of employment. This should confirm salary, holiday entitlement, sick pay arrangements and all other relevant terms and conditions. You must state clearly if the offer of employment is subject to any checks, which may include qualifications and reference checks. It is very important to ensure the contract is signed by your employee as soon as possible. Many employers produce a solid contract but then fail to follow through to the signature.
As an employee and manager, you are legally responsible for providing a safe and secure working environment and you should check whether you are responsible for having a first aider. You must also ensure all of your employee’s personal data is stored securely.
Given all of these responsibilities, you might wonder whether you are better to employ someone on a self-employed basis, but be aware that you need to take care to avoid falling into problems.
Employed or self-employed?
HMRC advises that you must check whether an individual is self-employed in both tax law and employment law. You can be held responsible for unpaid tax and penalties if a mistake is made. According to the HMRC website, an individual is probably self-employed if most of the following statements are true.
The individual is:
In business for themselves, responsible for the success or failure of their business and can make a loss or a profit;
Able to decide what work they do and when, where or how to do it;
Able to hire someone else to do the work;
Responsible for fixing any unsatisfactory work in their own time;
Paid a fixed price for their work by the employer – it does not depend on how long the job takes to finish;
Using their own money to buy business assets, cover running costs and provide tools and equipment for their work;
Able to work for more than one client.
The use of the words ‘probably’ and ‘most’ by HMRC make it hard to have 100% clarity and so it is best to proceed with caution. If you are in any doubt, please take professional advice. Becoming an employer for the first time is an involved process and it is important to make sure you get everything right from day one to avoid issues later on.
If you are uncertain about the best way forward for you, then you would be wise to take expert advice which could save you time and money in the long term.
How do I interview for the role of medical PA? What questions do you suggest I ask?
When interviewing for a medical PA, it is important to ask questions to understand experience and expertise.
You need to ensure an individual is qualified to do the role, but also to focus on the softer skills relating to dealing with patients, working with others on the team and dealing with the wider community, including insurance companies and hospital booking departments.
Interviewing a PA
Ideally, you are looking to find the best medical PA to suit your practice, with the skills that you need and the attitude and behaviours that fit well within the culture of your team and in line with your values.
Every individual in your team has an impact on the quality of patient experience that you deliver and choosing the right team members is of the highest priority.
But an initial word of caution. In my experience, many employers assume the medical PA role can be managed by an individual with general PA or receptionist skills and I have seen numerous new employees thrown in at the deep end. This has resulted in a stressful outcome for both employer and employee.
The medical PA role is a very specialist role and completely different to a general PA role. If you are interviewing a candidate who has limited experience of the medical PA role, you will need to devise a thorough training plan to implement once your PA is on board.
Prepare for the interview by re-reading the candidate’s CV, highlighting any areas where you would like to explore in more detail or any gaps between employment that you would like to understand.
Write a set of questions that ensure you explore the candidate’s CV. This will also provide a gentle opening to the interview by focusing on the individual’s past experience.
Secondly, consider your job description for the medical PA role and highlight areas that have not been addressed by the CV.
Start by ensuring the candidate has an adequate level of expertise and experience to undertake the role. Is there evidence of working in equivalent roles?
Does the candidate know the systems you use?
If typing is required, has the candidate confirmed their capabilities? You may want to test typing skills separately. Create a list of questions that allow you to check thoroughly for experience and expertise.
The final part of questioning should relate to the attitude of the potential medical PA, their approach to patients and teamwork to allow you to assess whether the individual would be a good fit in your practice and within your team.
Are your values aligned? I believe the best way to assess this is to use the competency-based interview technique. You should ask relevant questions about past experiences and how the individual handled them.