Preparing for winter health pressures

12th November 2021

In this week’s blog, pharmacist and Education for Health Assistant Director of Clinical Learning, Preeti Minhas, shares her top tips for preparing for winter health pressures. 

As we come into winter once again, healthcare professionals are preparing themselves for long hours and busy days. Reflecting on my own frontline experience, here are a few ideas for how we, as managers, educators, and team members, can support one another to provide the very best patient care over the coming months: 

  1. Be your best self 

We are all familiar with the emergency protocol of ‘put on your own oxygen mask first’ but as healthcare professionals, it’s in our nature to prioritise everyone’s needs above our own. When it comes to maximising your performance at work though, it’s important to understand what makes you the best version of yourself, as this will in turn enable you to support and develop others effectively.  

Careful and considered management of your own feelings is key to dealing with workplace challenges in a way that protects your own emotional health and enables you to make decisions in a rational, evidence-based way; this is often referred to as being emotionally intelligent. A key part of this is recognising when you need to step away from a situation and having the confidence to take a break when you need to recharge. It can feel difficult to make yourself unavailable when you are aware of the pressures on your colleagues, but if we are to sustain a strong and resilient workforce through the winter season, identifying and using strategies to protect your personal wellbeing is vital. Mental Health resources, talking therapies, and relaxation or ‘self-care’ techniques can all be valuable sources of support to help you increase your emotional capacity. 

  1. Upskilling and development  

The challenges of the last 18 months have demonstrated the need for a flexible NHS workforce, and timely redeployment combined with strategic upskilling can help practices to successfully respond to winter pressures. In anticipation of staff absences and redeployment in providing key services such as COVID-19 vaccinations, upskilling multiple members of staff in priority areas can remove some the difficulties in arranging last-minute cover. This may be through formal routes such as full academic programmes (e.g. diplomas, degrees, or Masters), or through using creative and innovate bite sized learning such as our respiratory factsheets. These have been used by various primary care teams to support learning during team meetings, to enable HCPs to develop their knowledge and know how without taking time away from their frontline roles. 

At Education for Health, we have worked with a number of NHS commissioners to offer a range of educational interventions to support the skills gaps they are facing today. Some areas have chosen to undertake a short intervention around refreshing asthma knowledge; for others, our longer Level 5 and Level 6 COPD short courses were exactly what they needed. Identifying the right level of training for your team, and making the best use of whatever time you have available, lets you approach upskilling in a flexible, needs-driven way. 

  1. Right people, right time, right place 

Think about the range of roles of roles within your practice: are they all being deployed in the most effective, efficient way? Being part of a multidisciplinary team always provides a multitude of opportunities to make use of different skill sets.   

Could your clinical pharmacist deliver extra vaccination clinics? Are HCAs able to pick up health checks to free up practice nurse capacity? Could other healthcare professionals employed as part of the PCN facilitate more home visit slots for vulnerable patients? 

It is also important to make use of the services available outside of your practice by signposting patients to community provisions or voluntary groups. Making sure all staff, including those in non-clinical roles, have access to local service directories can help to manage queries and concerns more efficiently.  

  1. Encourage self-management 

Finally, remember to explore ways in which patients can self-manage their condition. As well increasing independence and control, effective self-management can reduce the impact on practice staff by helping patients to recognise changes in their symptoms. It is worth evaluating the range of resources available in your locality, particularly if the provision of information in alternative formats (e.g. community languages, easy-read versions) would benefit your practice population. Similarly, digital resources including apps may increase patients’ confidence in self-managing their condition. 

Want to know more about upskilling the workforce in times of winter pressures? Visit our online shop to explore the range of courses we have available to meet the development needs of you and your colleagues or contact our NHS Partnerships team to find out more about how we can work together to deliver positive outcomes for our patients.  

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