NHS finance careers: make your career count

In the third in a series of CIPFA webinars, leading senior NHS finance professional Hardev Virdee and recently CIPFA-qualified NHS finance business partner Mohammed Panjwani discuss their career journeys, the support they’ve received from CIPFA, plus future challenges and ambitions.

More than ever, the role of a finance professional in the NHS is challenging, demanding agility, flexibility, resilience and responsiveness to rapidly changing circumstances. Over the past two years, the UK healthcare sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important its role is, along with the roles of many other specialisms within the NHS. Alongside the challenges, this dynamic environment also offers the opportunity for a uniquely rewarding and fulfilling vocation for those aiming for a career in finance. 

In this webinar, Hardev Virdee, Group Chief Finance Officer at Barts Health NHS Trust – one of the largest NHS provider organisations in the country, with an annual income of about £2bn and a workforce of over 20,000 – speaks with Mohammed Panjwani, who is in his first year as Finance Business Partner at Milton Keynes Hospital. They discuss their career journeys via the NHS graduate training scheme (some 20 years apart), CIPFA support and opening pathways for the next generation of finance professionals.

Hardev Virdee (HV): Why did you choose to work in the NHS? Was it something around public sector versus private sector that led you to that choice?

Mohammed Panjwani (MP): For me, it’s the idea that I’m contributing to something for the greater benefit of society. I’ve worked in other organisations in the private sector, but I felt like I didn't really have the motivation there. In my current role, I know that the decisions I make will have an impact on patient care – I know that I’m making a contribution, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that I’m doing that as best I can. Also, when I was younger, I was a service user of the NHS, so there is an element of giving something back as well.

It’s about making sure that we in the NHS are providing value for money and also providing great patient care. It’s also to do with the staff in the NHS – they’re so resilient and at all levels are very inspiring. Is that the same for you, Hardev?

HV: Yes. I think that affinity is based on a set of underlying values. When I was given the opportunity to be on the NHS graduate training scheme, I was working in banking, and I had an attractive offer from a large bank, but what it came down to was which values I was most aligned to and where I thought I could add the most. It was based on my value judgement – it reflected me more as a person, and that probably helped shape my decision. It was also the value of public service that drew me more towards the NHS, so it seems that’s a common factor for us. How did CIPFA help shape your finance training, your outlook on the opportunities that lie ahead for you and your development?

MP: Because CIPFA is tailor made for the public sector, it provided me with the tools to develop, and it was nicely integrated alongside the roles that I was doing within the NHS graduate training scheme – the competencies that I had to achieve as part of the graduate scheme fitted seamlessly alongside what CIPFA required for me to become qualified. I was able to use what I was studying in the CIPFA modules in my work.

Also, as CIPFA covers many other public sector bodies, it was a great networking opportunity to talk to people who come from different organisations. Although it was my ambition to work in the NHS, I’m also interested in the public sector as a whole – anywhere I feel I can make a difference. It’s also great to have regular communications coming from CIPFA – it definitely helped me. How about you, Hardev? How does it look for you 20 years on from when you qualified?

HV: CIPFA has evolved and developed, and it’s much more progressive. CIPFA now is more relevant, and it’s reaching out wider than just the public sector too. When I was studying, I was always told that CIPFA confined you to working in the public sector, but I have a lot more dealings with the private sector now than I have ever had.

I’ve been in private sector meetings many times, and they are astounded at the complexities of the NHS and how to navigate through the world of NHS finance. Through CIPFA, you certainly have a broader range of skills that are applicable across all sectors. You also have a network with CIPFA that is supportive. I can see through CIPFA’s leadership, through the way that the forums within CIPFA are set up, that it speaks to people coming through and supports them through their career journeys as well.

One of the reasons I contribute a lot more to CIPFA now is because I feel it listens and it’s responsive, and it can support people like you and me in our careers as well. I think that support is really important. I’ve found that you need the support of people – whether that’s mentors, coaches, a network or an individual – you need someone to lean on who can help you. Do you have that support around you through mentoring and coaching, or are you seeking to in the future?

MP: I haven’t really taken on or approached anyone to be a formal mentor or coach, and that’s just because I like to get a variety of opinions from everyone around me. I’ve got quite a few people within my organisation of the right calibre whom I can go to for good, constructive feedback about how I’ve been working on a day-to-day basis, because that’s the only way that you can really grow. 

In future, as I want to progress to more senior roles, I will try and approach someone about being a formal mentor or coach, because I think that’s something I’ll need to get to the next stage of my career. How about you, Hardev – did you ever have that support?

HV: When I worked in and trained at West Midlands, I was lucky enough to have good people who helped push doors open. I found myself given opportunities at a very young age. At one point, I think I was the youngest director of finance in the NHS – and that doesn’t happen by chance. There are people who will help and support your career development, whether it’s mentoring, coaching or support, and that is really important. Now I’m in the fortunate position to be able to mentor lots of people, and what I’ve tried to do in the NHS is put more structure behind this.

I’ve been working with CIPFA in a number of areas, particularly around workforce and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) too. I have a strong focus on people, on people development and on equality. I’m chair of the National Finance Academy for the NHS in England, and we focus on providing recruitment, retention and development opportunities for all finance staff at every level to reflect the population we serve.

In the NHS Finance Academy, under the banner of One NHS Finance, we have a sponsorship programme. Sponsorship is about having someone who carries the flag for you – who will champion you as a person. They will do more than push that door slightly ajar – they will burst it open for you and give you those opportunities. That is a really positive step forward for us in the NHS, because not everyone is lucky enough to have the voice to get what they’re looking for in terms of mentors, coaches and opportunities.  

This is about creating the future leaders based on the populations we serve and allowing that talent to really rise to the top. That’s what we’re focused on, and it needs people like you, Mohammed, to play a part in creating that finance community that we all want.

Meet our guests

Mohammed Panjwani is Finance Business Partner at Milton Keynes University Hospital – a finance professional with over five years of experience within the NHS supporting various finance functions. He was a part of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme (Finance), where he undertook the CIPFA qualification and passed his final exam in June 2021.

Hardev Virdee has been the Group Chief Finance Officer for Barts Health NHS Trust in London since November 2019 following a successful spell as CFO at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. His career in the NHS began over 20 years ago; he joined the graduate finance training scheme in 1996 and gained his first board role as Finance Director in 2009.

The series

Revisit the first two CIPFA NHS finance careers webinars:

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