Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

In conversation with: Devasuda Anblagan PhD, Finance Manager of NHS England and NHS Improvement

14-04-2021

Shortly after the UK's first COVID-19 lockdown began, Devasuda Anblagan started her first permanent finance role. Here, she shares her journey into public finance with Anna Howard, CIPFA's Head of Qualifications and Membership.

Devasuda began her career in the health sector as an MRI physicist. Arriving in the UK in 2005 on a scholarship from Malaysia and getting a First in Physics at the University of Nottingham, she was awarded a PhD, researching the MRI of foetal development in Nottingham before becoming a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She went on to complete the NHS Financial Management Training Scheme before becoming a CPFA in 2020.

Anna: I'm really interested in the work you were doing before you became a finance professional. When did you first become attracted to the public sector, and particularly public sector finance?

Devasuda: I've always been interested in how patients are served, and I'm passionate about improving the health and care they receive. My medical research background in academia was ultimately about contributing to patient health and wellbeing, and I knew that I wanted to contribute to public healthcare when I was doing my PhD.

But I began to feel frustrated by some of the funding models affecting research decision-making and long-term healthcare priorities – they seemed overly focused on fixing immediate, short-term problems. I started talking to colleagues and other people in the NHS about how this could be addressed, and one – an alumnus of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme – suggested I explore that route into NHS finance. For me, it was about finding another way to have an impact.

A: What do you enjoy about working for the NHS?

D: The NHS is very public-focused, and this completely aligns with my own values. The organisation I work in now creates an environment that enables innovation, encourages partnerships between people and organisations, understands the needs and demands of the population, as well as developing strategy planning aimed at improving people's quality of life. That was really key for me – improving the health and quality of life for the patients I serve, be it as a scientist, as an MRI physicist or through accounting.

A: What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date?

D: I am very proud of my contribution towards improving the lives or the prospects of the babies who are born preterm, or babies who would have been going through pregnancy complications. Some of the research I did was around issues such as smoking, diabetes and substance abuse by mothers during their pregnancy, and how it might impact the baby's development. I published several journal papers over the 10 years of my academic career, but one highlight was publishing in Nature Scientific Reports.

In my finance career, the standout moment has definitely been working with NHS England and NHS Improvement on the COVID-19 response. Almost from the moment I joined, it was all about supporting the healthcare providers in the East of England – ensuring that the PPE was located and delivered to where it was needed the most in the first wave, and other important work to help tackle the crisis.

A: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing public finance professionals of the future?

D: There is too much focus on short-term goals and a failure to recognise that sometimes we need to choose or make short-term sacrifices to achieve greater benefit in the long term. That includes investing in research in certain areas, developing solutions and applying this to preventative interventions early on in life to avoid future, more costly treatments. Another challenge is encouraging people to join the profession – we need to do more around recruitment and training. And of course, we need to modernise and invest more into technology and innovation to get work done more effectively, efficiently and more sustainably in the long term.

Read more about Devasuda here and her career journey in her case study

To find out more about how CIPFA can help you and your finance teams visit: www.cipfa.org/training

This interview first featured in Healthcare Finance magazine, March 2021.