Seek out mentors and coaches to guide and help you

by Stephen Sutcliffe

05 February 2020

Stephen Sutcliffe was one of the shortlisted entrants for the Finance Director of the Year award 2019. He has over 25 years’ experience working in NHS finance and is currently the director of finance and accounting at NHS Shared Business Services. Find out more about what was it like to be nominated, his birthday wish for HFMA’s 70th birthday and why he chose the NHS over free beer for life…

How did you start your NHS finance journey?

I left University in 1993 and had a choice of 2 graduate training schemes to go on. My choice was between Tetley’s brewery and, what was then the Regional Finance Training Scheme. I turned down the chance of ‘free beer for life’ to join the NHS. I was attracted by both the ability to use my skills to put something back into society as well as the excellent reputation that the scheme had (and still has). I was interviewed for the scheme by the now CEO of St Helens hospital, Ann Marr, who was my first finance director at Aintree Hospitals for my first placement. She provided me with an amazing grounding in finance and also the importance of using our skills to assist clinicians make decisions. Reading the recent Designing our future and Exploring the role of the NHS finance business partner, I recognise this was my role all those years ago.

Why did you get involved with the HFMA?

It has been lovely to see the development of HFMA during my NHS career. I studied CIPFA and at that time HFMA and CIPFA were closely aligned. Therefore there was a natural link in assisting me in my studies. I remember fondly attending branch meetings in the North West, where prominent speakers would come along and provide fantastic insight. It has also been a great place to network. This of course developed into the regional conferences and the national conferences, which I have attended and spoken at and got a tremendous amount from. The Introductory guide to NHS finance was a fabulous tool to support my budget holders too!

HFMA is now my main source of information, network and insight. The introduction of the HFMA awards to the Annual conference was a great opportunity to showcase our achievements, and also drive our team and individual performance. Whilst at Oldham Primary Care Trust we won the Governance award in 2006 (before the awards really took off) and then in 2011 the Efficiency award. Both gave me great pride in the team and personal opportunities to share our success and learnings.

The HFMA is 70 this year - where do you see us in 30 years from now and do you have a birthday message for us?

In 30 years from now I would like to see the HFMA representing the wider non clinical support services that are about insight, process, management. The finance function of the future won’t be linear, won’t be traditional, generations will demand a different career expectation, and other people with those skills ‘outside’ of finance will be needed. I think breaking down the barriers and not just being for finance staff would be a huge step forward.

Happy 70th Birthday. You deserve all the accolades you are getting and more. You’ve worn so many hats for so many people for so long, without expecting anything in return (except maybe our subs!), it’s time you did!

Last year, you were shortlisted for Finance Director of the Year – how did you find the experience?

Firstly, it was humbling that a member of the team took time out and put in significant effort to nominate me, that made me feel very thankful, grateful and privileged. To then be shortlisted from such a wide spectrum and number of Finance Directors, particularly coming from a Shared Service supporting finance rather directly engaging with the front line staff was a very proud moment. The event was exciting, little nerve racking and a very well-deserved winner in Karen Geoghegan. Karen and I attended the (then) Monitor course at Cass Business School together, and it has been fabulous to watch her development and ultimate success.

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

For me it is the continued opportunity to network, whether formally or informally and also the monthly magazine is a must read (even just to see the movement in staff!)

What piece of advice do you have for others in NHS finance?

The advice I give to myself every day is to think if this was my mum would I be happy with the treatment, patient experience and behaviours being demonstrated. I would advise people starting out to seek out mentors and coaches to guide and help you, to volunteer for regional and national work, to always do your bosses job and ‘manage upwards’ and ensure you are true to yourself and your values.

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