Obituary: Tony Whitfield

Healthcare Finance news, 29 January 2019

Tony WhitfieldTony Whitfield OBE passed away on Christmas Eve aged 61. He died peacefully in Warrington, the town he was born and brought up in, and where he lived all his life.

Tony was an inspiration to many working in the NHS and was influential, both across the local health economies in which he worked and at a national level.

He joined the NHS in 1983 after seven years in finance roles in manufacturing and services, including Rylands wire factory and North West Water. Initially, he joined what would become St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust. He held several finance posts and began working with clinical and non-clinical staff to improve service efficiency and effectiveness.

It was 1992 when he became director of finance and deputy chief executive of the trust. In this role, he oversaw a successful clinical rationalisation and approval of the business case for the new Whiston and St Helens hospitals, procured through the private finance initiative bid. In 2002, he also had a spell as the trust’s acting chief executive.

He moved to Salford Royal NHS Trust in 2003, where he was deputy chief executive and finance director until the end of 2013. During his time at Salford, he delivered strong financial performance, based on service line management and patient-level costing – initiatives he passionately pioneered.

He was responsible for the financial plan that underpinned the trust’s successful foundation trust application alongside a full business case for the PFI-rebuilding of Salford Royal.

He continued to engage closely with clinicians. This included an award-winning project in which he worked with two neurologists to develop a strategy to reduce inappropriate demand for their service and developing partnerships with other trusts to provide clinical and clinical support services. He led the trust’s bid to provide hyper-acute stroke services in Greater Manchester, based on a collaborative model recognised as having some of the best outcomes in the country.

In early 2014, he moved to become finance director at The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, a post he occupied until his retirement on ill health grounds in 2017.

At Leeds, he restructured the finance team and oversaw an improvement in the previously poor financial position. Before passing away, he talked at length about his work in transforming Leeds and reflected with some pleasure on the trust winning the HFMA Finance Team of the Year Award in 2018.

In 2009, Tony joined the HFMA Board as a trustee, a post he occupied for nine years, stepping down in December 2018, having served his full term as a trustee. He championed patient-level costing and led the association’s work to develop clinical costing standards on behalf of the Department of Health, which provided a foundation for NHS Improvement’s Costing Transformation Programme.

Tony Whitfield

In 2012/13, Tony served as president of the HFMA, overseeing the opening of 110 Rochester Row – the HFMA’s London base and conference centre. He was closely involved with national work to understand the implications of seven-day services for emergency and urgent care and led the HFMA’s costing work in this area – paving the way for the subsequent establishment of the HFMA Healthcare Costing for Value Institute. 

His president’s theme of Knowing the business struck a chord with members and contributed to a much greater focus on clinicians and finance working more closely together. He was also instrumental in the early work to develop new qualifications at the HFMA – a fact that was recognised with the establishment in 2017 of the annual Tony Whitfield Award for the association’s qualifications programme student of the year. In the new year’s honours list of 2017, Tony was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his service to the NHS.

The bare facts don’t really do Tony justice – he had a hugely influential career in the NHS at the organisation, regional and national level. But he amounted to a lot more than that. He was inspirational, regarded by many as a true leader of the profession.

He recognised the importance of having a strong and highly skilled finance team andTony Whitfield was loyal to his staff and very inclusive, drawing on his personal experiences with stories for any and every situation.

Those who worked with him cited him as the person who pushed them on one step further, with an incredible vision and energy.

Tony was known as someone who empowered his staff and transformed the fortunes of three NHS organisations. At the HFMA, his ambition was the same, becoming very involved nationally in 2007 with the creation of the HFMA’s (then new) foundation trust faculty. By late 2012, he was president. Tony was inspiring but challenging, and he knew what he wanted the association to achieve. He was passionate about the HFMA and wasn’t frightened to tell you! You always knew where you were with him and he preferred to tell you face-to-face.

But above all, Tony was a kind man, always upbeat, friendly and enthusiastic, and with a dry sense of humour. He thought of others and he cared about his fellow human beings. He was always sensitive to others and amused by people in general.

He is survived by his wife Janet and two children, Phillip and Fiona.


Sue Lorimer, non-executive director, Wirral University Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and HFMA president 2015

‘I met Tony 25 years ago when I returned to Liverpool from Norfolk and since then he never failed to make me laugh with his wry humour and his unique take on the world. Although not one to suffer fools gladly, Tony genuinely cared about his colleagues and was always keen to reach out to provide support.

‘There will be many people reading this who have had a call or a text from Tony when they were at a low point in their careers.

‘He has left a lasting legacy to the world of NHS finance and that gained him an OBE. But I like to remember him more as the bloke who would ring me up randomly to talk about an old episode of Crossroads or The Sweeney or some other 1970s’ programme he’d found on television or the internet.

Tony will be remembered for his mantra that NHS finance staff should “know the business”. For Tony it was more than that and the interest he showed and the effort he put into his HFMA and finance director work demonstrated that he was not only somebody who knew the business but loved it too.’

Jane Tomkinson OBE, chief executive, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

‘I met Tony 20 years ago when I moved to the North West. Our first encounter was at the strategic health authority finance directors forum, where Tony spotted a new and very green deputy who clearly knew no-one and nothing.

‘Even 20 years ago Tony was regarded as an “elder statesman” but he came over, introduced himself and explained who everyone was.

‘This made me feel so much more at ease. Tony subsequently continued this support and mentorship, always providing sound advice, and the odd “get a grip” when needed!

‘Tony was a true gent who had time for everyone, a very dry sense of humour and a source of long and entertaining stories of the farm in Ireland. I will miss my friend, colleague and adviser.’

Bill Gregory, chief finance officer and deputy chief executive, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, and current HFMA president

‘I first met Tony when I took up my first director of finance post at Liverpool Heart and Chest. Tony was then director of finance at St Helens and Knowsley.  During this time I remember my first insight to Tony’s view on the world, and in particular human behaviour, when he likened the Mersey acute director of finance meeting to the famous Monty Python four Yorkshire men sketch, when they started comparing the size of their financial problems. He was never short of sharing his views on life, but was always ready to listen to yours too, especially if you had a few problems of your own.

‘Our paths crossed again when we both worked in the Greater Manchester system. When I took up my post in Stockport, he made a point of calling me to congratulate me on my appointment and to make sure I knew where to find him if I needed a chat. This is something I know he did for many people, not only making a personal contact, but helping make you feel part of the health system.

 ‘Tony may have left us now, but his influence very much lives on. That might be in the ideas and plans people have made as a result of something sparked during a “Tony” conversation, working in a team he helped shape, benefiting from care in a hospital he helped create, or in my case that little push to get outside my comfort zone to achieve a bit more.’

Sue Jacques, chief executive, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, and HFMA president 2012

‘Tony was a giant in the world of NHS finance and his legacy will live on for decades to come whether through the national initiatives he sponsored and supported such as the Healthcare Costing for Value Institute or the personal advice and words of wisdom that he shared with so many of us. Although he’ll be a big loss, his impact has been and will be even greater. From a personal perspective I know I am a better individual for knowing Tony and suspect a lot of colleagues will feel likewise.’