Emma Ray of Canterbury North and South PCN underlines the importance of connections, shared experiences and seeing the bigger picture as part of the NHS Confederation’s enhanced Primary Care Network.
The last two years have been probably the hardest I have ever worked. I've likened it to the early days of maternity leave, when structure and downtime eludes you however hard you try, so you just dig deep and focus on getting through the day/night.
During the pandemic I ran faster and faster on my hamster wheel but the adrenaline started to dip, and my usual strategies of digging deeper and grafting harder weren’t always working. I realise with hindsight, I was missing a vital part of what keeps me going. I need to feel informed and see the bigger picture. I need to connect with people facing similar challenges. And I need to have a good dollop of inspiration every now and then.
Informed and inspired
In a nutshell, that’s what being a member of the NHS Confederation's new network for primary care does for me. It informs me, it connects me and it inspires me. It gives me the things I didn’t realise at the time I was missing and needing.
I first came across the NHS Confederation via the primary care network (PCN) managers’ group, which meets informally twice a month. These sessions provide an opportunity to join in if you want to, ask questions, provide answers and insight or just listen. It’s an ‘anything goes’ session but hugely helpful. For the past two years I have experienced a warm welcome at these PCN managers’ informal sessions and quickly connected with others from around the country who, like me, were sitting in their silos trying to make sense of it all.
...like all those in the group, I realised I had ideas and experiences that could help others, which is inherently satisfying
I joined hoping to learn stuff, but like all those in the group, I realised I had ideas and experiences that could help others, which is inherently satisfying. I was given access to the WhatsApp group for all those incidental questions or thoughts, and the Primary Care Hub app with its Q&A forum, recordings of webinars, copies of key resources and the wonderful summaries of key documents and webinars which, in a side or two of A4, help keep me informed and save me time. I no longer have to read all the documents like I used to!
There are also the more structured monthly lunch-and-learn sessions, sometimes with invited experts on a particular subject or even with members as experts, presenting/talking about a particular area. I love and hate presentations in equal measures, so being asked to present at one of the sessions filled me with both fear and excitement, but it’s a safe space and has given me a chance to practice.
Being part of the PCN manager group has enabled me to be better informed, better connected and definitely inspired by both the group and some of the amazing things they are doing in their PCNs.
The importance of connections
Joining the board a little while later connected me with multi-professional PCN leaders from around the country and very much added to my experiences of the manager group. As the pandemic challenges continued around us, we got to know each other on Teams, both formally and informally. I have made good connections and someone on the WhatsApp group always has an answer to those ‘I really should know this but...’ questions. The sheer wealth of energy and ideas can at times be overwhelming but always inspirational, and I leave meetings buzzing and motivated. Not only that, but it has given me the opportunity to help influence the direction of travel for primary care. How often when some new initiative or guidance comes out do we say, ‘if only they’d asked us, we could have helped it work better or done it this way’? Network membership gives us all that opportunity.
...meeting up face to face was like starting to have a drink of water, and then gulping it down because you realise just how thirsty you are
The board got the chance to meet up for the first time last November, between COVID-19 spikes. For me, meeting up face to face was like starting to have a drink of water, and then gulping it down because you realise just how thirsty you are. I thrive on all the informal, incidental conversations that just don’t happen on Teams and am really looking forward to the face-to-face NHSConfed Expo 2022 in Liverpool in June. I know I will come away informed and connected, but most of all inspired.
Primary care is moving into a new phase, silos are out and collaboration is king. As we all emerge from the pandemic into what is hopefully the epilogue, we are all getting back to proactive planning, developing strategies, forming visions. You can get involved with Confed at whichever level suits you. Core membership offers the chance for all primary care leaders to be better informed, connected and inspired and the enhanced membership provides an opportunity for those who, like me, relish getting more involved in shaping and influencing the future of primary care.
Emma Ray is PCN manager for Canterbury North and South PCN.
Find out more about the Primary Care Network and how to become a member.