The merger of three NHS audit teams in the north east into a new specialist provider could become a model for other areas to follow, according to a trust finance director.
Northern Internal Audit and Fraud Services, Audit North and Sunderland Internal Audit Services have been brought together to form Audit One, one of the largest providers of internal audit, counter fraud and advisory services in the country.
The merger to form the new consortium was announced last week. The new body will be run by director Ian Wallace, and has a five-member board of finance chiefs from NHS organisations in the region.
Its chair will be Julia Pattison, City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust finance director and the other board members are:
- Caroline Trevena – acting director of finance at North Tees and Hartlepool Foundation Trust
- James Duncan – director of finance at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust
- Colin Martin - chief executive of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation Trust
- John Maddison – director of finance at Gateshead Health Foundation Trust.
Mr Duncan told HSJ Audit One will benefit the region by bringing better audit value, more consistency and sustainability to audits and improving best practice by bringing together the knowledge and expertise of the existing staff.
Mr Duncan also suggested the new model could be rolled out across more parts of the country, but stressed the board has not set a specific savings target yet.
He added: “At this stage we haven’t set a specific target for savings – that’s something we are going to develop through this year as we set out the strategy for the consortium.
“It [audit mergers] certainly could become more common. We would certainly look at the wider map and if other areas of the country are in a place where they can take this approach we are happy to work with them and advise.
“We see benefits in efficiencies and also in terms of having a standard approach to audit, reducing the number of audit days organisations are utilising, and further efficiencies and quality improvements across the organisations.
“The real benefits are around consistency in approach, around sustainability of audit function, and getting the most from our people - it is about getting real value from the knowledge and expertise of our audits and in terms of spreading best practice.”
Discussion about the merger began last summer, and the decision will bring together 68 staff working from offices in Cumbria, Durham, Newcastle, Stockton, and Sunderland.
Audit One is already planning to expand its technology risk assurance and counter fraud teams with the recruitment of a head of both specialisms, and has invested over £40,000 in new mobile technology.
The consortium will be hosted by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust and currently has about 30 clients, mostly NHS organisations.
Mr Duncan said the board was looking at creating specialised teams around quality and assurance, counter fraud and IT audits and hopes to broaden its work into more local government sectors such as education and housing.
He added: “We will be looking at reorganising the way that we work so we can create increased specialisation.
“One of the things we will be looking at as part of this is how we increase our spread across the patch, looking at opportunities in local government such as the housing and education sectors.
“We are open to opportunities if they benefit the consortium and will look to each case as it arises.
“But we are looking at opportunities to go deeper into other sectors and don’t rule out further expansion of the consortium.”