This time of recruitment challenges provides an opportunity to examine the role of NHS finance director and challenge long-held assumptions, writes Adam Connelly

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Connelly Adam

Adam Connelly

Structural changes over the past three years have created a number of recruitment challenges at board level within the NHS.

The role of finance director is no exception, as NHS trusts face unprecedented pressure, with rising deficits largely attributed to systemic challenges facing the majority of providers. This has created a strain across the whole system, which the cross-organisational working of the sustainability and transformation plans process seeks to address.

Exploring the role

With recruitment and retention in the spotlight, we are engaging with NHS finance directors for the next report in our Insight for NHS Leaders series to explore their role. As well as gaining a better understanding of the characteristics, behaviours and qualities of top finance directors, we will find out how they manage the significant workload pressures, with a particular focus on what support they receive.

Many NHS organisations still believe that only people with an NHS background can deal with the complexities of the system

We are seeing more NHS organisations starting to look beyond the NHS for talented financial professionals in order to learn from best practice from other sectors either out of necessity, or because of the scarcity of NHS employees interested in or suitable for the role.

However, many NHS organisations still believe that only people with an NHS background can deal with the complexities of the system. We aim to test the belief that it is vital for finance directors to have NHS experience to see whether it is acceptable – perhaps, even desirable – for them to have a non-NHS background.  

Most would agree that collaboration is required to improve outcomes at local, regional and national levels. In our discussions with finance directors, we will look to understand the impact closer organisational working has had on generating savings within their organisation and partner organisations.

We will also examine how the next generation of FDs will need to develop stronger relationships with external partners to tackle the day-to-day challenges and plot a successful path for the future.

In our experience, the finance director portfolio often deters candidates as it is not seen to be broad enough to play a significant leadership role within the organisation and externally.

As we explore this theme and others in more depth, we hope to move the debate forward in such a way that we better understand what steps need to be taken to improve recruitment and retention to ensure greater skill diversity, and to develop the right support mechanisms that will enable finance directors to lead their organisations to success.

Adam Connelly is head of research at Hunter Healthcare

Turbulent times put squeeze on hard-pressed finance directors