President's tour: Northern

by Mark Orchard

13 November 2017

Currently, in terms of individual members, the HFMA Northern Branch is the smallest in England. But you would hardly know that from the delegate numbers – almost 200 – attending the annual conference this year in Durham.

The event provided a platform for both national and regional perspectives on some of the current challenges in NHS finance. And, given the timing, there was also inevitably some speculation about what we will learn from the chancellor's Budget speech on 22 November.

If this tour was only about England, I'd be finished now with all ten of our 2017 English branch conferences ironed on to my tour T-shirt. However, as I've been very clear all along, our association is a four nation affair that places our members in a unique position to share, learn and network across the UK as well as within our nationally governed health systems.

I have already enjoyed visiting Scotland and Wales, but still have Northern Ireland to look forward to later this month as the final leg on this 13 branch full UK tour. Everyone counts.

So, back to Durham and our Northern Branch annual conference. David Chandler is an energetic branch chair who also doubles as our national Commissioning Finance Faculty chair, such is his commitment to our association. Like most of us, David also has a day job and a set of financial delivery commitments – in his case as chief finance officer for Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group. 

David is very ably assisted by Sandra Phillips, chief executive of the charity Actes (achieving change through enterprising solutions), in her role as branch events manager. And of course, alongside David and Sandra are an equally committed small group of individuals, who give up their time to support the HFMA Northern Branch committee. Thank you all. It was a pleasure to join your 2017 annual event and to witness first-hand the widely reported good stuff happening in this part of the world.

Until recently, NHS organisations here enjoyed relative financial stability. It was apt, then, that this year's conference theme was Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs): setting the pace. But the sheer scale of the challenges facing the whole of the UK has started to have a significant impact on all NHS organisations in the North East.

Alan Foster, STP lead for Cumbria and the North East, reminded delegates that being recognised as traditionally high performing – financially and against operational standards – is a slippery slope. This may require people to work even harder on key messages to ensure that everyone understands and responds to the very real challenges now and in the future. 'Together, we can make a difference', was Alan's closing rally call and this would equally resonate across the whole UK at this moment.

Bob Alexander, deputy chief executive and executive director of resources at NHS Improvement, reinforced the message that it is only through transparency and maturity of relations between all system partners that we can manage some of the wicked issues that fall between continued success or otherwise. Bob was sincere in his 'thank you' for this patch having always delivered what it said it would deliver. But he was also keen that we don't become prophets of doom – if we believe we can deliver we stand a much better chance of continuing to prove the commentariat wrong.

Supported by local commercial sponsors, the event concluded with a local healthcare finance industry award ceremony that recognised individuals and teams against five categories:

·        Team of the Year (small teams)

·        Team of the Year (larger teams)

·        Accountant of the Year

·        Finance Student of the Year

·        Accountancy Technician of the Year

Two applicants were shortlisted to the final stage for each award category, with a healthy total of eighteen applications overall. Lots to share and learn from then, and so it was helpful that the accompanying awards brochure included a summary for all eighteen nominations. Simple and effective. Well done to all concerned.

These award categories and the wider branch calendar of events confirm a real commitment by the Northern Branch to nurture and develop talent. It was clear from David's opening remarks that enabling networking opportunities for students, including examination and on-the-job peer support, is important to the committee. This is to be applauded – and could easily be replicated where helpful across our wider UK branches. I will certainly be highlighting this as one of many distinguishing features of the Northern Branch when I feedback to our UK branch committee leads early in the new year.

It is also no surprise that this branch boasts the most significant take-up of our newly created HFMA qualification – with 20 registrations to date. This branch may be our smallest in terms of individual membership numbers, but in more ways than one this is a branch punching well above its weight.

For now, England is conquered. I am on the branch home straight with Belfast my final destination later this month before our UK annual conference in December

President's tour: Eastern
President's tour: Kent, Surrey and Sussex
President's tour: South West
President's tour: Wales
President's tour: North West
President's tour: London
President's tour Yorkshire and Humber
President’s tour: West Midlands
President's tour: South Central
President’s tour: Scotland
President’s tour: East Midlands

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