Ready and able

by Sarah Day

09 May 2019

NHS finance function in good condition to meet long-term plan challenge

Since the publication of the NHS long term plan in January 2019, NHS organisations and the bodies that support the NHS, such as the HFMA, have been considering the implications of the ambitions set out for the health and care system of the future.

While much of the plan builds on the foundations set out in the Five-year forward view, the scale and pace of change envisaged means that the system will see significant change over the coming years. For the finance profession, as for others, this means new ways of working, the development of new skills and building new relationships across organisations that may have traditionally been viewed as competitors.

A new HFMA briefing examines the implications of the long-term plan for the finance function. Some parts may seem obvious, for example returning the system to financial balance by 2023/24 will require finance staff to carry out their traditional financial management roles to a continuing high standard.

Other parts also indicate clear changes to working practices; for example, the automation of core transactional processes such as invoice processing will alter some of the roles within the finance team.

However, the key themes of the plan are improvements in quality and more efficient use of resources, both within individual pathways and across systems. These are areas where the finance profession has an important role to play, although perhaps not generally recognised in traditional accountancy job descriptions.

As finance teams find themselves working in increasingly integrated systems, the development of new relationships and joint working practices will be essential. The nature of our profession, and the networking opportunities offered by the HFMA, mean that many of us already have those cross-boundary relationships that are so crucial to success. Where relationships are yet to be formed, finance staff have the experience to develop them and can play a key role in enabling other parts of the system to communicate and work together.

For organisations and systems to realise the ambitions of the plan, they need to fully understand the business – who is using the services, how much they cost, what are the outcomes, what would be the impact of change and so on. The data used by finance teams on a daily basis can answer many of these questions.

The skills that finance staff have in understanding the figures and interpreting the information can go much further than just producing the monthly board report. Finance staff can assist the wider system to understand the business, to identify opportunities for change and use resources in the most effective way for patients.

The HFMA has produced many resources that can support the finance function and will continue to address the challenges that the profession faces as the plan is delivered. These resources are signposted in the briefing, which has been designed as a reference guide for all finance staff as they seek to add value to their business and develop their own skills for the future.

The plan sets out a period of significant change and the environment in which we work may evolve over the coming years. The finance profession must adapt in order to fully embrace the opportunities offered. However, the skills that are already in place across the finance function enable us to meet the challenge and support the health and care system as it develops over the next decade.

HFMA briefing: What does the NHS long-term plan mean for the finance function