Remember that the patient is very close to your work

by Annette Walker

04 April 2017

Annette Walker is making a name for herself in Bolton, building bridges between providers and commissioners and redefining NHS contracting. She is the chief finance officer at Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group – the first organisation to achieve Future-Focused Finance accreditation. Annette has been a member of the HFMA North West branch for nearly 25 years and is an active member of the HFMA Commissioning Finance Faculty Technical Issues Group. We caught up with her to find out how HFMA has supported her through her career and how her recent HFMA Finance Director of the Year Award 2016 has affected her and her team.

How did your NHS finance journey start?

I started as a finance trainee in 1993 in the North West straight after university. I hadn’t thought about NHS finance as a career until my brother in law suggested it. He had secured a place on the general management scheme and thought the finance scheme would suit me. I did a number of placements in Rochdale and Salford and then secured my first ‘proper job’ in Burnley as a GP fundholding accountant for East Lancashire Health Authority. I’ve been lucky in that I have worked for a number of inspirational people and had their help and support throughout my career. Though my brother in law is the reason I am in the NHS, he left to become a pilot but I am very happy to have stayed in NHS finance!

Why did you get involve with the HFMA? How does the Association support your career development?

Joining HFMA was one of the first things I did when I started in the NHS. It provides a network and a community to be part of. I’ve tried to support HFMA as much as possible over the years and hope to get more involved as my children grow a bit older and perhaps I might find myself with more time! I have been looking at the courses that are currently on offer – Diploma, Higher Diploma and a pathway to MBA. The good thing about these courses is that they are really flexible and accessible for those with family responsibilities like me.

What’s the most important HFMA member benefit for you?

It’s hard to pick out one, there are so many on line learning resources and opportunities to influence national policy but most of all I think it has to be the fact that HFMA brings all aspects of NHS finance together creating a unique and vast network.

What were you thinking when you found out you’re the director of finance for 2016? How has the award impacted you or your team?

Annette Walker at the awards ceremony

Being totally honest my very first thought was damn I should have bought a new dress, but being really superstitious I didn’t because I didn’t want to tempt fate! It then hit me and I was completely overwhelmed by the time I shook Bob Alexander’s hand.  I was honoured to receive the award but upper most in my mind was the fact that I have a fantastic team. Sitting with Simon Worthington that night, the winner in 2015 and members of his team made it all the more special because of the journey we’ve been on and also having just found out we’d also won the HFMA Innovation Award for Aligned Incentives Contracting.  Winning the award has been motivational because I am now thinking how we can improve on what we just did. There is no time for complacency! Bolton has developed a reputation for winning awards and I am pleased we are on the national map.

What piece of advice do you have for others in NHS finance/people who are starting their NHS finance journey now?

Find people who inspire you and learn from them. Always remember that the patient is very close to the work you do whether you are paying an invoice or developing a financial strategy, we call it ‘Patient Focused Finance’ in Bolton! Work hard, obviously, and use networks such as HFMA to build contacts and meet new people with different ideas and viewpoints. Don’t be afraid to speak up, have views and ask questions. The best leaders listen to alternative views and ideas and know that they are not always right. Check out the culture of organisations before you apply for jobs so you know what you are in for.

Only 28% of DOFs are women. Why do you think the percentage is so low and what does it take to be a female director of finance?

I didn’t design it this way but virtually the whole of my senior team are women! My chief officer is a woman, the chief executive of our local hospital and community trust is a woman, the chief executive of our local authority is a woman and the chief executive of our local mental health trust is a woman! So I tend not to think about gender imbalances as it’s certainly not my experience. I think that statistic will reverse within the next 5 years as the next generation break through. I don’t believe that the lower numbers of women is due to discrimination but more to do with women coming forward for the top jobs. I’m currently reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’ for the answers as to why that is. Whether you are a woman or a man, the director of finance job is the same and individual approaches vary which is a great relief as it makes life much more interesting!

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