We are brighter together when we work together to achieve common goals

by Alex Gild

09 January 2018

Alex Gild, director of finance at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, took over the HFMA presidency during the HFMA annual conference in December last year. He is a longstanding HFMA member and was the chair of the South Central branch between 2012 and 2017. We spoke with him about how a declined visa led him to a career in the NHS, his presidency theme and his thoughts when he was first advised to network.

How did you start your NHS finance journey?

I was due to go on a Romanian business exchange for the placement year of my business degree course. At the last minute my visa was cancelled by the Romanian government, so I needed to quickly find a new placement. There was an unpaid finance assistant role available at the Radcliffe Infirmary NHS Trust in Oxford, which included staff accommodation and meals in the hospital. I worked in the pub across the road from the hospital during evenings and weekends to supplement funds. It was through this placement and under the excellent guidance of Brian Hegarty in the finance department and the clinical teams I worked with, that I first found a liking for NHS finance. I quickly developed a sense that the work I was doing was in the end adding value to people. When I graduated, thanks to my experience at the Radcliffe, I went straight to work for the Buckinghamshire Family Health Services Authority as an assistant management accountant, just before it joined with Buckinghamshire Health Authority. My next role was back at the brilliant Radcliffe and from there I had a very enjoyable time in the Oxford acute sector for the first part of my career, working up into senior management via the management accounts route at the Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre NHS Trust. I met my wife Liz, an occupational therapist, whilst on placement at the Radcliffe so I have lots of happy memories of those times, and thanks to random Romanian diplomatic intervention I have not looked back since in terms of the NHS finance career choice I made.

Why did you get involved with the HFMA?

I think my manager suggested it would be good for me to join HFMA which I did in 2002, back then I used to do what I was told most of the time(!). I’m glad I listened to the advice because HFMA has provided me with very good opportunities to learn new skills and develop. Also, important to me then and now was the extent of the network of support and friendship that HFMA offered. I am still in touch with many of the people I have met through HFMA over the years. As NHS finance professionals I think we are very lucky to have HFMA in the way it connects us in order to learn from one another. HFMA also helps us to give back either through service to branches, national committees or supporting events by contributing your time and experience. I joined the South Central branch team when Steve Bolam was chairing. It was an exciting time to join as the branch had just formed and Steve had a vision to build the branch’s positive impact for members in our patch. Steve did a great job in developing the branch and I was proud to take over from him as chair between 2012 and 2017. I think HFMA has played an important part in developing my understanding of how the NHS and wider care systems work, where we should fit and add value as NHS finance professionals and where we might support and lead to help improve our organisations’ care for patients.

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

There is no one single member benefit, they are all important to me. It is the people I meet, the reciprocal sharing and learning, the network of knowledge and experience, the high quality publications and policy work and the continually developing learning and education offer from HFMA. In a very challenging NHS operating environment I also think HFMA is uniquely placed to represent members’ interests and we will see more support to NHS finance professionals from HFMA in the coming years. It is great to see HFMA moving forward in the digital space, the recently launched myHFMA app will really help get HFMA’s high quality messages and content out and to members’ fingertips. One of the many good things about HFMA is you can get involved in pretty much any way that you want. HFMA is at its core a membership association and our branches are fundamental to that, so please encourage your colleagues and friends to join so that they too can fully benefit from this fantastic association.

What’s behind your presidential theme Our NHS, your HFMA, brighter together?

I am passionate about, and proud of the NHS, it’s values, principles and overarching aim of caring for those in need. Our NHS relies on people working together, collaborating effectively, for patients. We should be defined by this common goal. However, it has often felt like we have been pitted against each other or distracted by politics, the system, by organisation cultures, by the constraints on resources and by the distress of workforce shortages and increasing demand. I have a simple intention behind my theme, in that we are brighter together when we are working together to achieve common goals. That speaks to wherever we are working and whoever we are working with. But not just working together, the “brighter” element is about harnessing the power of our ideas, change and innovation, which the NHS is going to need if it is to sustain. I hope my theme, supported by aligned programmes and projects during 2018, is one that will resonate with members as it resonates with me. A theme that intends to build energy for positive change and develop the resilience we will always need. We are brighter together.

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

Starting out in NHS finance I used to cringe at the thought of networking when advised to do so early on in my career by people who knew better than me. My advice is don’t think about it as “networking”, just get out of your office and get to know people in your own and other organisations. Going a bit deeper, Tony Whitfield’s presidential theme was spot on, “knowing the business”. We will find it hard to add value as NHS finance professionals if we don’t understand how services are organised or how they deliver care to patients. One of the best things I did on my placement year (and still do as CFO) was to go with humble enquiry, curiousness and respect to speak with and observe clinical teams and patients, be that in neurosurgery operating theatres, in A&E, out on home visits with district nurses or speaking with staff and patients in a psychiatric intensive care unit. When we understand our clinical services better we can add more value to them, our organisations and most importantly patients. Also, get to know, understand and support your other corporate services because we need to achieve alignment together in support of front-line services providing care to patients. It’s what we are here for.