Pulling together

Here at the Christie, finance and procurement staff have adapted quickly to the changes necessary to ensure the safe running of the hospital during the first stage of the Corona Virus pandemic, as well as helping out in a number of critical areas outside peoples usual roles. This blog captures some of the team’s experiences, thoughts and feelings through this unprecedented time.

As a specialist cancer hospital, many of our patients are at increased risk from Covid19, and therefore all staff who can, have been working from home. For us, this means the whole finance department has been WFH since March 24th. Delivering year end, producing annual accounts, finalising budget setting, understanding and transacting the ever changing Covid19 related guidance and then straight into delivering month 1.

The finance team has promoted flexible working for a while now and I think there was always an uncertainty about how flexible we could be whilst still meeting key deadlines, maintaining effective communication and providing the same high quality support to divisions. The recent COVID pandemic has moved us all to work remotely 100% of the time and I’m incredibly proud of how our team has pulled together during this time, the Financial Management team has really demonstrated their strength in working together as a team. We have managed to produce both a year-end and month 1 position, bottom out historic and complex queries (requiring multiple team members involvement), cost business cases for divisions, maintained communication both in FM and the wider finance team and continued attend budget holder and divisional board meetings through Teams.

Whilst I know that many of the team are looking forward to being back in the office and working face to face with colleagues a real positive to come out of this is that we have shown we can work differently and still have the same high level outputs, we can hopefully find a balance and work hours to suit our family or personal needs which in turn gives a much more positive work/ life balance and promotes a stronger and healthier workforce.” Ellie – Head of Financial Management

It’s been a busy few weeks due to the year-end deadlines; pulling together working papers for the auditors as well as finalising the 20/21 budget and then straight into month 1 reporting. The additional responsibilities of Covid-19 reporting have kept me busy with staying up to date with numerous guidelines and ensuring the costs are reflected correctly. Across the organisation we are all adapting and staying connected with colleagues via Teams/emails and this has been very effective ensuring we still maintain consistency and uniformity during these testing times. Colleagues sharing good practice and different ways on how they are working productively have been amazing.

Due to the busy schedule I’ve not had much downtime which is a positive as there is not much else to do with being stuck indoors, although I am looking to forward to my unlimited exercise after month 1 reporting is over before cabin fever takes a hold.  Going forward, my focus will be on making improvements/ efficiencies and streamlining the way I work. This will also help at identifying different working ways which can only improve work life balance. It will also be a good time to organise my work files, clear out the clutter so I can work smarter! These small things are the things we simply don’t have time for in more “normal” times but with more time I will manage to streamline my working space!

 When this over I’m looking forward to better times under normal circumstances and let’s not forget the office banter.” Alisha – Reporting and Financial Planning Manager

“It is an understatement to say that year end and maintaining business as usual has been extremely challenging this year.   With the finance team all working from home for the first time and the auditors working remotely, it has been up to us to adapt to a new way of delivering the accounts and audit.  Every member of the team has risen to the challenge – I have been amazed, but not surprised, at how creative the team has been.  Whether it’s learning new ways of communicating (how did we manage before Microsoft Teams?), adapting processes and procedures, developing alternative means of providing services, covering for colleagues off sick or working long hours whilst juggling other responsibilities, the whole finance team has been exceptional.  I am always optimistic, so whilst the crisis has been and is a tragedy, it is also a catalyst for change and I am sure that there are many positives to take from our new ways of working which we can build on for the future.  However, I will be breathing a huge sigh of relief when the 2020 annual accounts are finally completed, signed and submitted.” Hilary – Head of Financial Services

As well as the team here at The Christie doing a fantastic job hitting all our normal deadlines, collaboration across Greater Manchester has been a key part of our response to Covid19.

Whether that is communicating with our peers across GM, the Provider Cell, GMHSCP or the GM procurement group; we are maintaining and utilising the relationships we have spent many years creating – and becoming experts on Microsoft Teams!

“Leadership in such a new and uncertain time is a real challenge.  A key part of my role as the new Deputy DoF was to listen; to the team’s professional and personal concerns about the emerging pandemic, but also to reassure them that they had the necessary skills and expertise to be able to get through this.  It is absolutely incredible how quickly the team have adapted to working at home, often juggling childcare, changes to working hours, concerns about family illness and new technology.   It is a privilege to work with such a professional, competent and strong team with a great spirit.  It is clear that the team work for the Christie as a whole organisation, not just in finance, and have pulled together to support our clinical staff to continue to deliver the very best care to our patients in very difficult circumstances.” Sally – Deputy Director of Finance (since 02/03/20!)

As well as managing the more normal workload, and the more predictable impacts of the pandemic on a finance department, colleagues have been heavily involved in critical elements of the Christie’s operation response. One example of this is PPE (an acronym we are all now very familiar with). Both procurement colleagues and redeployed finance staff have worked incredibly hard to navigate this critical area, ensuring we have the right equipment, and it gets to where it needs to be to keep our staff and patients safe.

It is great to be able to say that despite the well documented challenges of obtaining PPE from the government, the staff at The Christie have had a constant supply of everything they need thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Trust procurement teams and wider staff, working independently and with the Greater Manchester Sourcing group.  In addition we have had great support and much appreciated donations from large organisations, local suppliers and individuals here in the UK and from abroad who want to personally support The Christie at this difficult time.  Furthermore via mutual aid we have been able to help other Trusts when their supplies have been running low.” Diane – Head of procurement

I’ve been redeployed from my role in finance to help organise and distribute the trusts PPE stores 3 days a week. Its been great to see Clinical staff, Procurement, receipt and distribution, requisition and supplies, Manchester cancer, security, School of Oncology Staff and finance staff all coming together to get PPE into the Trust and get it out to the wards and departments that need it. Challenging at times when stock is low, changing guidelines nationally, new requirements – e.g. making up staff testing kits.

From a personal perspective I have discovered places in the organisation I never knew existed, met lovely new people, getting a great workout and more bruises than I have had since I was a kid J” Sarah – Head of Costing

As we progressed through the early stages of the pandemic, new requirement never before needed at the hospital were implemented, and once again finance staff were there to step up, and provide vital support to help protect our staff and patients, and keep our clinical staff free to continue their vital work.

“Whilst I would usually spend March, and if we’re honest much of April, negotiating contracts with commissioners, this year the contract negotiations were paused in March and we don’t yet know when discussions can resume. The current situation has thrown all the 2020/21 activity plans, worked up closely with clinical and operational teams, out of the window, probably permanently. The altered ways of working that have been implemented as a matter of necessity during the pandemic, to minimise hospital footfall and risk, may in some instances continue post-COVID-19, meaning that activity in the ‘new world’ may look quite significantly different. This clearly has implications for future charging mechanisms and commissioner contracts. 

I can foresee an extremely busy time for me and my team when things ‘return to normal’, assessing what the revised pathways and treatment protocols look like, the associated cost, or indeed efficiency, implications, and how these will translate in to payment mechanisms. There are many questions as to the future of national tariff in its current guise, how the NHS may be funded in future and where funding priorities may lie?

For the here and now, with clinical income currently driven largely by block contracts, and much of the usual ad-hoc work on service developments and tariff development paused, I have found myself needing to do something else. Not only to ensure that I continue to work hard for the NHS, but also to ensure that I personally have enough to do to keep me busy and sane. I therefore offered up my services to the daily staff screening programme in the hospital. This has seen a significant shift in my working day, with my shifts starting at 6:30am (I am definitely not usually a morning person!). An early night and a hefty dose of caffeine sets me up to be cheerful and welcoming (at least I hope so) when the staff enter the hospital for their shift and they are greeted by me, wielding a thermometer. The unanticipated ‘benefit’ has been the number of new people I have come in to contact with, both on the screening team and staff being screened, that I would not usually come in to contact with. I’m sure that there will be many more faces that I will recognise, and greetings to be made, on the corridors of the hospital when the hospital returns to ‘normal’; for instance Eve who I screen every morning and who has suggested that we should have a coffee together some time, or Annie and Leah, my screening buddies, who have brightened my morning with their energy and humour.” Liesl – Assistant Director of Finance Strategy

Volunteering to help with the Staff testing last week took me out of my COVID 19 comfort zone. I have been working from home, only making essential visits to the shops, feeling rather sheltered from what is happening in the Trust.

I have always admired our Nursing Staff but the Nurse I was assisting last week was incredible. Starting work at 6:30am, we worked without a break until 12:10pm she was then going onto the ward to finish a shift. She treated her first screening patient with the same care and attention as the final person she screened which was me. I am so glad that I took the time to be on the front line for the day. It gave me a new understanding of the difficult conditions the Trust is working under. I will defiantly volunteer again if the opportunity arises.” Lisa – Financial management assistant

The way the whole department has come together to support each other and the hospital at this immensely difficult time for all of us has been something really special. The flexibility and commitment on show is a real credit to this department, and I know we will continue to rise to the challenges still to come, both in finance and procurement, as well as any new areas where our enthusiasm and resourcefulness can be put to good use.