Painting by numbers

by Caroline Clarke

26 February 2021

Annual accounts offer an opportunity to tell the tale of a pandemic in the financials.

Many people reading this will be thinking about their financial year-end, and how to prepare for the end of a year like no other.

I think that’s a really interesting part of our job – to tell the tale of a pandemic in the financials and to do it in a way that gives a true sense of what happened. It’s very easy to get caught up in the vagaries of accounting standards and changes in policy, and sometimes we can lose the transparency of what the numbers are actually telling us.

Let’s remember that we are accounting for a truly exceptional year, with truly exceptional costs. We owe it to our stakeholders, and to ourselves, to paint that picture in as clear a way as possible in our various annual reports. So good luck to all of you preparing the accounts. It’s an important job and the eyes of the public will be upon us!

I’m writing this piece on the day that Scotland announced its route out of lockdown and the day after the English team described lockdown easing here. Like many people I’m experiencing the mixed emotions. I totally understand why we can’t unlock quickly. I still have more than twice the number of patients in my intensive care facilities than normal and the actual disease prevalence is still pretty high.

But I also really want to get a decent haircut and have dinner with my mates. And I’m suddenly craving a visit to the pub in a way that I haven’t for years. And a visit to a gym.  And a trip out of London.  And a chance to visit the various branch conferences in person. In the words of Joni Mitchell: ‘you don’t know what you got til it’s gone’. But I have patience and I can wait.

Meanwhile, I’ve been vaccinated and I’m encouraging everyone to go for it. The UK experience of Covid has been terrible by most objective standards. Our saving grace may just be our brilliant vaccine programme.  Big shout out to anyone involved – so many people have stepped up to help run clinics and centres. They are all making a bit of history.

So for the next couple of months, we have to be patient.

I feel privileged to have been asked to continue my HFMA presidency for a second year and hope that later in the year it may give me a chance to see some of you in person. My theme of Taking pride in our future remains entirely relevant. I think all NHS staff can take pride in their response to the pandemic. The NHS is an amazing service and the actions of staff – on the front line and in support services – have only helped to underline why it is valued so highly by the public.

This year, the HFMA intends to explore two aspects of our future in particular. First we want to look at how we harness digital technology to better meet the needs of our populations and patients. This is a massive and hugely exciting agenda, but we need to lay the groundwork so that we can realise the potential.

Finance staff have a big part to play in this programme – both in making the case for investment and helping clinical teams to identify opportunities for delivering value. We’ll be working with Health Education England to raise awareness among the finance community.

We’ll also be focusing on workforce issues, including how we can make further strides to improve diversity and inclusion in the finance function. These are big topics and I’m excited about the chance to push ahead in both areas.

This comment also appears in the March issue of Healthcare Finance.