The Pharmacist speaks to pharmacist Shilpa Patel about her trail-blazing new role as a lead partner in a GP practice.

Over the last six years, Shilpa Patel has been working as a partner in a GP surgery in Brighton. With a community pharmacy background, she says the business and management insight she gained in community pharmacy roles, helped her think differently to the other general practice partners.

‘I was always questioning, “why are we doing it like this?” and a lot of the time, [the answer was]: “well, we've always done it like that”.'

‘It’s about changing their mindset, and I think just bringing a fresh pair of eyes,’ she tells The Pharmacist.

Now, with six months of finance training under her belt, Ms Patel has this week stepped into her new role as lead partner for the practice.

" We have to do things very differently now"

Ensuring the practice’s income is sustainable will be a key focus in her new role.

‘There's so many funding cuts in general practice. Just going the normal route, it is getting harder and harder to make your practice profitable, or to even make it sustainable. So we have to do things very differently now,’ she says.

With GP and nurse recruitment proving difficult, Ms Patel has spent the last nine years helping the practice work out where other staff members can take workload off the six GPs in the practice, some of whom work part time.

The surgery currently employs 10 pharmacists, who manage ‘all the long-term conditions’, ‘and they just started with acute conditions as well,’ she says.

‘All our pharmacies have got a really good work-life balance. I spend a lot of time one to one with them, figuring out what they what they want out of life, and what works for them.

‘So a lot of their hours are to suit them. The courses they go on, it's not so much about what the company needs, it's more about what the pharmacist needs. And that's worked really well for us,’ she says.

Ms Patel thinks the way she has managed and built up the pharmacy team ‘from scratch’ has helped the other general practice partners see what value she could bring to the lead role.

‘They want the whole company to be running the way our pharmacy team is working,’ she says.

‘That’s my next project now!’

"The right person is doing the right role"

Another of her projects will be transforming the way the practice is run.

On her second day in the role, Ms Patel announced the introduction of a senior leadership team – something she’s been working on over the last six months.

‘It's very difficult for one person to be able to juggle all the different kinds of roles that a practice manager needs to fulfil. We realized quite a few years ago, that it's just not sustainable.’

The new senior leadership team will share the responsibilities of the practice manager between 10 leaders from each team within the practice – five clinical staff and five non-clinical staff.

‘Those 10 people are feeling very motivated and very valued at the moment. And they've got this drive, we've picked them specifically because they are ten people who are going to drive the business forward,’ she says.

‘I think everyone really believes in this new concept, because it is going to change the way that we manage things, you know, the right person is doing the right role.’

Bringing business acumen to general practice

Mental health crises surged in Brighton following the pandemic, and the death by suicide of a child waiting for years for an ADHD assessment prompted the practice team to set up an ADHD clinic for its patients.

‘That's probably where we've grown quite a lot, because lots of people heard about it, and then they've joined our practice to get that service,’ says Shilpa.

The practice also provides other specialist services, like hormone therapy patients going through the menopause and for trans patients.

But while Ms Patel says this specialist care is good for patients and relieves pressure on other parts of the NHS, it is also expensive for the practice to run.

As lead partner, one of her tasks will be trying to access other pots of funding outside the GP contract.

‘It’s a huge puzzle. I've noticed that a lot of the pots of money are kind of hidden, and there are pots of money, but unless you know the right people, you won't even hear about it. And then how can you apply for it when you don't even know they exist?’

"There are pots of money, but unless you know the right people, you won't even hear about it."

Ms Patel says she’s found the search for funding ‘frustrating’ but has realised that it’s something that she’s good at.

And she’s been encouraged by the other partners in her practice to develop these skills – such as by taking the lead on the merger of three surgeries.

‘They're the ones who have given me the motivation – like, “if anyone can solve this, it'll be you”’ she says.

‘I didn't realize the skills I had. They've seen something that I didn't even realize I had.’

‘I'm really hoping that it's going to motivate and encourage other pharmacists put themselves forward for something like this,’ Ms Patel says.

"I'm really hoping that it's going to motivate and encourage other pharmacists put themselves forward for something like this."