The four partners of the Newmedica Shrewsbury clinic – on the right – at its opening by mayor Julian Dean and Specsavers’ founders Doug Perkins and Dame Mary Perkins
An all-female team marks a milestone for Newmedica eye care clinics and tell Independent Practitioner Today their story.
When Newmedica Shrewsbury opened late last year, it marked the latest in a long line of successful openings for the independent healthcare provider, which operates from 23 sites across England.
But it also marked a milestone for the company, as the first eye health clinic and surgical centre in the network to be run by an all-female partnership.
For operational director Cinty Yarnell and consultant ophthalmologists Ms Carmel Noonan and Miss Kaveri Mandal, the opening marked the culmination of three long years of preparation for a partnership for which the professional links had long been in place.
And last month a fourth partner joined the team in the shape of consultant ophthalmologist Ms Natasha Spiteri, completing the all-female quartet.
But, as Cinty explains, while an all-female leadership team in ophthalmology is unusual, in their case it was entirely organic.
‘Carmel and I have known each other in a professional capacity for two decades now, and she introduced me to Kaveri, whom she knew well, three years ago,’ she says.
‘They later introduced me to Natasha, whom they had worked with and respected. So our partnership is based on strong relationships built in other roles in the sector and on mutual respect, not on having tried to build an all-female team by design.
‘We all work together really well, as we have the same passion for delivering a great service. Based on my experience elsewhere, it does feel like a different dynamic in a really good way, and we are all true partners.’
Ms Carmel Noonan
Carmel continues: ‘When Newmedica approached me about becoming a partner at the Shrewsbury service three years ago, I suggested they bring Cinty on board too. She and I have worked together in a number of roles over the last 20 years, and I knew that her operational expertise was essential if the new clinic was going to be a success.’
The new partnership is proving highly effective so far, as, since they opened in November 2021, the team has already had to more than quadruple its number of surgical days to support local patients as part of the NHS England Covid Recovery Plan.
And all three clinical partners are active trainers of future ophthalmologists and are continuing this work at the Shrewsbury clinic – their first trainee started at the end of last month.
But opening a new service during the Covid-19 pandemic was not without its challenges. The team at the clinic has a strong relationship with their local clinical commissioning group (CCG) and Care Quality Commission locally, although registration proved to be a slower process than expected – as for all providers – due to the pandemic.
Building a team
Ms Natasha Spiteri
Cinty says that the biggest challenge they faced in the run-up to opening the clinic is one common to the rest of the ophthalmology sector at the moment: finding staff with the right mix of skills to deliver the service.
‘I think skill mix is an issue right across the sector at the moment’, she says. ‘For us, personality was the most important factor in choosing our wider team, as skills can be developed and we want to develop our people to become the best that they can be, whatever their professional background.
‘But we would love to see a sector-wide approach, like an academy, to make sure that the required skills are available to all providers, right across the UK.’
Setting the agenda
Their partnership in Newmedica Shrewsbury gives the partners the chance to set their own agenda based on local needs, something which has not always proved to be as easy in other roles.
Miss Kaveri Mandal
As Kaveri explains: ‘In some larger organisations, decisions which have a serious impact on service delivery are often made outside the service, which – while understandable as part of a wider system – means you have less autonomy locally.
‘Being equal partners in Newmedica Shrewsbury means that we can make the decisions we want to make based on our local patients and what our local partners like optometrists and the CCG need from us.
‘This gives us a tremendous sense of job satisfaction, as ultimately, all we want to do is provide our patients with quick and effective care which lets them regain their quality of life.’
Making the leap
For all the partners at Newmedica Shrewsbury, making the leap to running their own service has been a really positive one. For Carmel, Kaveri and Natasha, who all still work in the NHS alongside the partnership, it provides an interesting contrast and different way of working which really enhances their professional lives.
Carmel says: ‘Our partnership is an equal one, which means that any of us individually only get out what all of us put in. While we have to work within guidelines, we have a tremendous amount of autonomy which is really satisfying – especially when you get great feedback from happy patients who are really satisfied with the care you have designed and delivered.’
The future is female?
For all the partners at Newmedica Shrewsbury, gender is not a factor in their partnership. But they are pleased to see more women than there once were in senior roles in ophthalmology and new recruit Natasha is really pleased to be part of the team.
‘I’m really delighted to be working with Cinty, Carmel and Kaveri to support local patients, and am excited to see what the future holds,’ she said.