Ensuring financial fitness

by Sarah Day

28 August 2018

Throughout August we are taking the opportunity to focus on some key areas of the HFMA’s policy and technical work and remind members about some of the outputs that might be useful. Each week we are highlighting a different topic. This week, the focus is on the development of the finance function.

Being part of the finance function in the NHS is as much of a vocation as being a clinician in the service. Many finance staff cite the desire to improve patient care and support public sector values as their reasons for being involved in healthcare.

However, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress of the everyday, with a stream of targets, reports and planning submissions to satisfy the demands of a multitude of interested parties – both those internal to the organisation and in the wider NHS and public sector. While integration of services offers the opportunity to improve services for people and realise efficiencies for the health and care sector, the journey to get there will present new challenges and opportunities for the finance team.

The HFMA National Healthcare Finance awards celebrate excellence in finance departments and showcase best practice and achievement. While the winners receive coverage of their work in a dedicated Healthcare Finance supplement, those shortlisted also have much to share with the wider finance community.

A new briefing looks at some of the case studies submitted in the Finance Team of the Year category. The submissions include examples of innovative ways to share financial information with the wider population and details of how finance teams can support system transformation across health and social care. There are also examples of finance teams using their knowledge to support patients in developing financial awareness and life skills.

The awards also recognise individual achievement with director and deputy director of finance awards. Findings in the HFMA’s publication The NHS finance function in 2017: England showed that more than half of deputy or assistant finance directors did not want to progress to become finance directors because of their perception of what the role entails. Celebrating success for those currently in that office is, therefore, vital recognition to help to encourage progression.

Together with CIPFA, the HFMA is considering what the future looks like for a chief finance officer as systems become more integrated and senior leaders are required to work across sectors. Work carried out by the HFMA to celebrate the service’s 70th birthday highlighted that the skills needed by finance staff in the future will be very different. Looking ahead: the NHS at 100 stressed that finance staff will increasingly need to understand the demands on different parts of the public sector. But they will also need to be comfortable working in an even more complex system. For those leading in this environment, the demands will be great but potentially very rewarding.

The nature of the finance function is changing. Since 2013, the proportion of staff working in financial management has increased. The more transactional roles are seeing a decline. This corresponds with growth in the use of shared services and the commonly held view that the finance profession will become more automated over the coming years. Alongside this, finance staff will need to develop greater analytical skills and be able to apply this analysis to business development and service transformation.

Future-Focused Finance is carrying out research to determine what the finance function will look like in the future and what that means for current training programmes.

The finance function should not be seen as a back office function, but as a service that works alongside frontline clinical staff to enable and facilitate service improvements. The 2017 National Healthcare Finance Awards celebrated many fantastic examples of finance teams doing just that and no doubt the 2018 awards will highlight more success stories to be shared in our community.

Find out more about the HFMA Awards 2018 and submit your nominations by 28 September.