Question 1. Tell us about your current role (please provide your job title) and what you enjoy most about it?
I enjoy the variety the role brings – it is about ensuring specialised services are commissioned for patients often with rare and complex conditions and delivered in our many brilliant hospitals in London. It covers commissioning, finance, transformation, pathway change, quality, clinical and it is this breadth that I really enjoy about it.
Question 2. Can you describe your career story?
Going back a very long time (because I am very old) I have a degree in Applied Biochemistry but having decided very early on that I didn’t want to work in a laboratory all my life I changed career and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Coopers and Lybrand in Liverpool. I enjoyed that immensely and went on to work in ICI and after having my 2 children and living in the USA decided I wanted to work in our fabulous NHS. My first role in the NHS was as Chief Internal Auditor for SW Thames RHA, I then took on a similar role in the Royal Berkshire Hospital providing internal audit services for several NHS organisations across Berkshire. I then progressed in that hospital in several different finance roles and left there as deputy Director of finance. I then moved as part of (1 of many) NHS reorganisations to become Deputy Director of Finance at Thames Valley SHA and then ultimately became Director of Finance for a short period at South Central SHA. I left there to take a slightly different role as FT Programme Director and Company Secretary (having also qualified as Chartered Secretary) at Buckinghamshire Hospitals. I stayed there for a year or so when the finance calling returned, and I became Director of Finance at Berkshire East and West PCTs and then CFO for 4 CCGS in Berkshire West. I then took the opportunity to become Regional Director of Finance at NHSE South Region for a year or so after which I changed direction again and became Director of Specialised Commissioning for NHSE South Region. After (yet another) NHS reorganisation I became Director of Commissioning for the SE region covering specialised services, Health and Justice and Primary Care from which I retired in 2021. I had 9 months retirement and returned to NHSE London in my current role.
Question 3. Were there any role models who gave you a sense of what it is to be a leader or helped you on your journey?
I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people during my career – my senior manager at C&L was the gruffest kind of man that shouted at everyone – except me. I don’t like shouting and very early on I said to him “I will come and see you about this work but only if you promise not to shout at me!” He laughed – didn’t shout and he taught me about being flexible in your approach in dealing with different types of people.
Mark Britnell was (and still is) an inspirational and charismatic leader – he was the SHA Director when I was the deputy Director of Finance. He taught me that you can hold people to account in a constructive and motivational way.
Most organisations have vision and values – The Chief Executive at the Royal Berkshire when I was there set 2 values that I still remember – and still quote and apply every day – “Patients are our 1st Priority” and “Freedom within a framework”, he was great but a nightmare form a finance perspective – he would walk the wards and promise money all the time – then we had to try and find it and honour his promises!
My current boss – Ann Johnson leads by empowerment and motivation – she builds confidence and is an inspiration (particularly but not exclusively) for women in leadership, promoting and encouraging gender diversity.
Leadership also doesn’t always have to come from the top of the organisation (TOTO), some of the greatest leaders are our Band 8s and 9s in their own roles – my Head of Mental health and Health and Justice at NHSE SE taught me a thing or two about the benefits of collaborative leadership, engagement and relationship building – she is genius at it.
I could go on with others but the message being that there is an opportunity to learn from such a variety of people and styles and you never know where that learning and inspiration will come from – be open minded and receptive.
Question 4. What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
Trying to juggle childcare and elderly care arrangements was probably the biggest challenge, particularly early on in my career. I remember always having to keep a week’s holiday in reserve in case the kids weren’t well at any time. Arrangements are much better nowadays with flexible working arrangements in place. I firmly believe people give of their best when you recognise that they are people with lives other than their work life and respect and value that.
Question 5. How have you balanced the competing needs of a modern leadership role? How would you define a modern leadership role (e.g. what skills are required)?
I think (and hope) leadership is changing – it is less about a male standing on a stage defining and instructing and is more about inclusion, belonging and empowering. The most senior person in the (now often virtual) room doesn’t know everything, and modern leaders value the contribution of their teams, develop shared visions and goals together so take collective responsibility and pride in owning and delivering them. Whilst I don’t feel I have ever experienced gender discrimination in my career I am aware a lot of women feel they have, and it is good to see a more gender balanced leadership profile in the NHS than ever before.
Question 6. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, if you could change one thing to help achieve that objective what would it be?
Everyone has something they can bring to the party, so invite people, encourage them to talk and contribute and THE most important thing is to LISTEN!
Question 7. What advice would you give to finance staff in furthering their careers and becoming leaders?
Do a role you enjoy and think you can continue to grow and develop into, and think about the broader aspects of finance and how you can apply your financial skills not just doing straight finance – don’t apply for a job that you can do 100% – there’s nowhere to go in it for you!
Question 8. What do you enjoy doing outside of the working week?
Spending time with my 4 beautiful grandchildren, time in my potting shed and garden and generally socialising with friends and family.