Future-Focused Finance is about ‘Making People Count’ by ensuring that everyone connected with NHS finance has access to the relevant skills, methods and opportunities to influence decision making in support of the provision of high-quality patient services.
I am Programme Director for Future-Focused Finance which is an initiative in place across the NHS. I am technically an employee of NHS England, although the programme we are running covers all parts of the NHS including NHS England, CCGs, trusts who report into both Monitor and the Trust Development Authority, Health Education England and a whole range of other organisations.
What we’re trying to do at its simplest level is improve the range and level of finance skills across, not only the finance function in the NHS, but also our colleagues who are clinicians and managers, in helping them to develop their skills in finance. The aim of it all being to make sure that the NHS is run as well as it can be in all aspects of its financial management.
I think that it’s absolutely essential that everyone involved in NHS finance has the appropriate level of training that they need. It would obviously be different depending on the function they are performing. For example, a finance director will require a very different set of skills to a medical consultant - working with a budget.
Part of what we need to do is make sure people have the right skills to deliver the best financial management for the organisation. I think we all realise that what with funding being tough that means that often training budgets are squeezed; but it is the wrong time to be doing that. As things get tougher we need the support of our colleagues across the whole of the health service to deliver financial balance. We need to make sure that everybody has the skills to help us do that, it can’t just be a function of the finance department.
There is often the perception with finance training that it is just about people getting their professional qualifications and becoming a qualified accountant. While that is important for a number of people, actually we also need our accounts payable clerks to be the best that they can be; we need our debtor’s clerks to do their job as well as they can; and they can do that without being professionally qualified.
Whether that involves taking a course with CIPFA or going to learn how to use your local ledger the best way you can, we need to get away from the idea that professional qualification training is the be-all and end-all of finance training in the health service.
We also need to give a proper focus to the financial training needs of our clinical and managerial colleagues and to ensure that they are best-placed to help us deliver financial targets.
One would be that I was made Finance Director of Chester & Halton Community NHS Trust at the age of 31. I was very proud when I achieved that and of the things that I achieved while working with colleagues in the organisation.
The second would be when I was asked if I would come and work with colleagues on the Future-Focused Finance initiative. My help was sought early on in the project and that made me realise that I must have done a good job in my previous Finance Skills Development roles and that I had done something right along the way.
I’ve alluded to the fact that times are tough in the health service at the moment - finances are tight. I think something that would make things much better for all of us involved in finance staff development would be a recognition that this is the time when we really need to focus on this issue and to recognise that we don’t have to spend huge amounts of money on training to make it good quality.
We can do lots of training on the job, we can encourage people within our organisations to try different things, to maybe do some job rotations and learn new skills elsewhere and just recognise that training doesn’t have to be a costly exercise and it can be done very effectively without spending very much money. So that would be what I would like people to recognise: that training is very much more than sending people on courses.