career exchange

In our occasional series profiling people in contrasting roles, Ann Dix quizzes two finance directors - one in the NHS, the other in the independent sector

Finance director, Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust.


Neil Chapman, 44, took up the job at the new trust in May 1998, following the merger of the United Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust and St James and Seacroft University Hospitals trust. The trust is the largest in the UK and the sole NHS acute provider in Leeds, with a£440m turnover. It has eight acute hospitals, treating 996,000 patients a year.

What was your career path?

I joined the NHS in 1983 as deputy treasurer at Worcester district health authority, following two years in industry as a financial accountant. A promotion in 1986 made me the youngest district treasurer in the NHS. In April 1991, I became finance director of St James University Hospital trust, which I financially reconstructed as a fifth-wave trust in 1995, following a merger with Seacroft hospital. The second, much larger merger led to my current job.

What attracted you to, and kept you in, the NHS?

I always wanted to work in the public sector, even though at the time it wasn't seen as a sexy place for accountants. I was attracted by the idea of a national health service, which I saw as offering a massive variety of work and opportunities. Now the NHS is seen as an extremely attractive place for accountants. In the 17 years I've worked for it, it's never stood still. It's a constant challenge.

Describe your current job

Corporate board director working with the five other trust directors to set policy. Head of the finance function, including responsibility for professional standards and training. Work with five service heads to manage the trust's financial position through divisional directors. Includes setting budget targets, monitoring performance and reporting to the board and the regional office. Also responsible for service agreements and supplies.

How many hours a week do you work?

Fifty to 55, in common with most of my colleagues, but this should decrease as our new management structure develops.

What was the biggest challenge of the past year?

The massive reorganisation of the newly combined trust into eight city- wide divisions, with a new management structure and a new suite of financial systems - all the time continuing to treat patients and keep financial control. A fascinating year, but absolutely hectic.

What challenges and cost pressures do you face in the year ahead?

Starting the process of service reconfiguration across the city, including a proposed£130m five-year capital development plan.

How do you keep budgetary control?

Divisional budget targets are set round staffing levels and adjusted according to patient throughput. Divisions are allowed to keep around half of any savings that they make.

Do you see the independent sector as a competitor?

Yes, at the margins; our private patient income is£6m. But the partnership opportunities interest me. A new Nuffield hospital planned locally may be a chance to sell complex pathology and radiology to the advantage of both parties.

What aspects of your job do you most enjoy?

All aspects of reviewing financial performance, from meetings with individual finance managers and other staff to meetings with the board and regional office.

Which parts would you happily do without?

There's nothing I don't enjoy, although keeping up to date is hard with so much happening.

How do you unwind?

Spending time with my family and helping my children do their homework. Playing golf badly. I'm also a lifelong Manchester United supporter and love watching them home and away.

Has your career gone as planned?

Yes. It was always my ambition to work in a major teaching centre and this is the job I always wanted.

Were there any major turning points?

Leaving industry to go into the NHS.

What's the hardest thing you've had to do at work?

The most recent things stick in your memory: reducing through a selection process the numbers of trust management staff, most of whom I knew and knew to be very good. It's been hard, but I believe we've done it as sensitively as possible, with few compulsory redundancies and£2.5m savings.

What has been the high point?

Getting on the combined trust board.

If you hadn't gone into NHS finance, what might you have done?

My first love was, and is, economics. I became an accountant to earn money, but by inclination I would have taught economics.

Where would you like to be in five years' time?

I'm not sure. For the next three years at least I'd like to still be in this job.

Would you ever consider moving into the independent healthcare sector?

It's not something that attracts me as it's so peripheral to healthcare compared to the NHS, though it will always have its place and may be growing.