Comment / Summer essentials

04 September 2023 Lee Bond

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So, the year-end came and went, and with it the finance teams swung into action. They were busy as ever preparing sets of accounts, which were duly subjected to an external audit process and then sent off to a higher power, where they were aggregated into an even grander set of figures that will eventually find its way to the Treasury as evidence of our previous year’s labours.


Traditionally, for the finance team, that has signalled the beginning of the summer period and perhaps even the chance to take some time off.

However, there is currently no let-up in the intense pressure on all teams. Part of that pressure is the mammoth task of preparing for the national cost collection, a specialist exercise that nobody really looks forward to (well, apart from some costing teams as an opportunity to showcase their wares). But the importance of this exercise cannot be downplayed.

While this is going on, the financial plans we pored over for so long at year-end are now starting to take shape, and some of the pressures we anticipated are starting to materialise. In response to this, finance directors are busy wringing the very last drops out of their exhausted balance sheets, while simultaneously trying to encourage the already stretched clinical teams to jump higher and run faster – using every tool available in their limited arsenals.

Which brings me back to the costing team and the national cost collection exercise.

To engage the clinical teams in a meaningful dialogue and to energise fledgling integrated care system working, the finance teams are constantly searching for new sources of information to help identify the efficiencies the demanding financial plans require. However, the most up-to-date national cost collection reports are now 16 months out of date (year ending March 2022) and model system data in many parts is equally as challenged.

Against this backdrop there continues to be a suggestion from a national level (supported wholeheartedly by this finance director) that we ought to be providing more accurate and timely cost information.

It wasn’t that long ago that a quarterly cost submission was being talked about – this now appears to be a longer term ambition. This year’s national cost collection submission window will be later than ever and has been fraught with uncertainty over its timing due to factors beyond the control of costing leads on the ground.

As a service faced with huge financial challenges, we rely on costing systems that are somewhat out of date and underinvested in.

And the debate we have with the national and regional teams about our ability to transform and the pace at which that might be possible is hampered by our ability to stand squarely behind robust and up-to-date financial information. Private sector organisations simply couldn’t exist without access to this kind of data.

If we can’t get timely and accurate information regarding our costs – information that we can reliably use to benchmark and to identify genuine opportunities to redesign and transform – then the current period of financial austerity is going to carry on for a lot longer!

The service needs an agreed and practical costing methodology that builds on the way providers calculate and report cost information. The collection process needs to be light touch and as automated as possible so that we all have access to robust, comparable data that can inform the productivity, pricing and transformation agendas. 

Let’s not forget that there is evidence of good practice where local data is driving transformation – but that is not universal.

Getting to this position – the goal is not just collecting the data but making use of it across all providers and systems – is something that needs to be prioritised.

Robust, comparable and up-to-date costing data is not a nice-to-have, but essential to short-term recovery and the long-term sustainability of services.

Contact the president on [email protected]