Primary care leadership: why collaboration matters

Whether you wear the leadership badge or not, collaboration, and having a wider support network, is key to driving change and realising sustainability. Dr Mark Spencer, GP and co-founder of NHS Collaborate, discusses the importance of a mutually supportive community of leaders from across primary care – GPs, practice managers, nurses, pharmacists and many more

Last year I completed my tenth marathon. As a seasoned runner, you may think it’s second nature to me by now, but standing on the start line in New York City, not having taken a single step, I already felt mentally and physically exhausted. With 26.2 miles to go, I’d already ‘hit the wall’.

Rewind five years and that’s exactly how I felt in my professional life. Having been a GP for twenty years, I was finally considering throwing in the towel. At the time, four of our six GP partners had retired in quick succession and we were struggling to recruit. Managing the extra workload, while dealing with rising numbers of increasingly complex patients, left me feeling drained and demoralised. For the first time in my career, I felt like things were never going to get any better.

The simple act of connecting with others

It was the simple act of connecting with others that helped me to rebuild my sense of purpose. As co-chair of NHS Alliance, I was invited to a full day session on generative listening, along with a handful of other primary care leaders. Over the course of the day, I connected with others in that room on a deeper and more meaningful level than I had ever experienced before in my professional life. Knowing that there were others on this journey with me brought me a real sense of comfort and, for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful for the future.

Those conversations were the very first seedlings of NHS Collaborate, a mutually supportive community of leaders from across primary care – GPs, practice managers, nurses, pharmacists and many more. It brings together those who want to make a difference, those who want to take risks and those who want to be brave, whether they have the word ‘leader’ on their badge or not.

Actively driving change

General practice is undoubtedly facing some immense challenges. With fewer doctors considering general practice as a career, and rising numbers of GPs choosing to retire early or leave the profession entirely, it’s clear that the future of primary care requires a radically new approach to leadership – an approach which champions risk-taking and celebrates failure, creating a culture that builds people up rather than grinding them down. NHS Collaborate is actively driving that change.

Standing at the start of the New York City marathon last year the thought of reaching the finish line seemed all but impossible; somehow, just over four hours later, I made it. It was the cheers from the crowd and the support from my fellow runners that really pulled me through. Looking around and seeing I was not alone gave me the strength to carry on – even at my lowest ebb.

The support to push on through

My experience of marathon running has taught me that, together, we can achieve so much more than we can alone. With general practice facing a precarious future, NHS Collaborate is a much-needed support platform for those who may be considering their future within this field. Creating a safe and supportive environment for leaders to come together and connect on a deeply personal level is generating a huge amount of positivity, hope and resilience within primary care.

At its heart, NHS Collaborate is about connecting with others as human beings. It means that, when I look around now, I see hundreds of people running alongside me – a whole community of leaders cheering and encouraging each other on.

Five years ago, I was ready to quit but, with their support, I’ve pushed through the difficult times and rediscovered my passion for general practice. Full of energy and determination, I couldn’t be more excited to see what the future holds.

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