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How coaching has helped support practice managers during the pandemic

Free coaching designed to improve mental wellbeing and resilience in primary care has helped practice managers cope with the stress and anxiety of working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Woman sitting at her desk, looking at her laptop
(Photo: massimo colombo/Getty Images)

The ‘Looking After You Too’ scheme is a free virtual coaching scheme introduced by NHS England at the height of the pandemic in 2020 aimed at those working in primary care.

The coaching is delivered through the NHS and consists of specialised sessions designed to better equip staff in dealing with the pressures and challenges they are facing, with the aim of ultimately improving their levels of mental/emotional wellbeing and building resilience.

The service is still running know and it can offer bespoke support for a variety of individual needs. Common topics covered include:

  • Pressures and challenges you may be facing.
  • How you are thinking/feeling.
  • How you are coping with the impact of demands in the system.
  • Specific problems affecting your sense of wellbeing.
  • How you are balancing the demands of working life and demands at home.
  • Managing stress and developing positive coping strategies.
  • Concerns about relationships.

The coaching has been delivered to 5,400 primary care staff in 18 months. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has recently published a study looking at the impact of the scheme, which shows a significant positive impact on those who have undertaken the coaching. 

Two practice manager recipients of the coaching were Claire and Natascha, who have shared their experiences as part of the IES report.

The challenge of COVID-19

Claire has worked for over two years at a large practice spread over two sites that covers 16,500 patients in Northamptonshire. 

She reported that herself and colleagues were suffering from high levels of anxiety during the pandemic. A high number of them, including Claire, were at high risk from the virus, so fears about catching COVID-19 coupled with the need to keep up with the huge amount of guidance updates led to growing stress levels among staff.

Social distancing measures also meant Claire herself was in the challenging situation of overseeing her practice remotely, away from her team. Concerned about what this would mean for her position as practice manager and losing confidence in her ability to fulfil her tasks effectively, she felt powerless to help with the anxiety being felt throughout her practice.

She described herself as ‘overwhelmed and anxious’.

Meanwhile, Natascha had four years' experience as a practice manager in a deprived area of Kent in a practice with around 10,300 patients.

She said the pandemic’s impact upon her surgery was ‘massive’. Natascha reported that with the start of lockdown, the practice received an ‘unprecedented’ number of calls each day from concerned patients, alongside increased amounts of staff requiring time off.

This, alongside the increased strain on their workload and ‘constantly changing guidelines’, contributed to high levels of anxiety throughout the practice, with Natascha spending a significant amount of time reassuring and supporting staff.

How the coaching helped

Claire and Natascha had both previously used wellness and leadership coaching respectively and knew the value coaching could have to their ability to support their staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noticing the anxiety throughout her practice and feeling unable to help, Claire found the ‘Looking After You Too’ coaching particularly appealing.  

Doubting her own ability to fulfil her tasks and feeling overstretched, she reported how the coaching helped her think of ‘practical quick wins’, helping her realise her daily/weekly achievements and rebuilding her confidence as a practice manager.

She noted how the coach took the time to reassure her that what she was feeling was normal and made her realise she couldn't manage her practice staff if she was burnt out herself.

Natascha reported that ‘being a practice manager, you can sometimes feel you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders’. She said that before coaching she felt as though she was going to ‘lose it’ at her desk.

Recognising that their current way of working was not productive, she approached the ‘Looking After You Too’ coaching with the aim of improving teamwork across the practice. 

The coaching taught Natascha to observe the language she used in team situations, allowing her to cope better with challenging conversations.

It helped her recognise that all individuals will react to stressful situations differently, providing her with additional strategies for dealing with difficult situations. She reported improvements with her mindset, saying the coaching provided her with the ‘headspace to process issues’ and helped her adopt a more positive approach to different situations.

A lasting impact?

Both practice managers have reported lasting positive results from the ncoaching, with improvements in mindset and self confidence.

Since returning to her practice, Claire has been approaching situations with a different perspective to before. She reported finding herself mimicking her coach’s words in certain situations and a long-term switching of her thought process from ‘what I can’t do, to what I can’.

In addition to improving her own wellbeing, Claire told the report authors that the coaching has also had a far reaching impact throughout her practice. The changes she has made to her communication have promoted positive thought processes throughout her team, with the techniques she learned helping the practice to think more ‘positively and strategically’.

Natascha reported significant improvements in the way she interacts with her team. She said: ‘The coaching gave me the confidence and structure I needed in team settings. I kind of knew where I needed to go but didn’t quite know how to get there.’

She added: ‘The coaching has 100% helped me. There is no way I could have come up with some of these solutions on my own.’

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