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A view from the top - Stephen Sutcliffe

I have just reached my first year with NHS SBS and wanted to share with you some of my experiences to date and my aspirations for the future. For those that don't know I had previously spent my career wholly within the NHS joining the Regional (as it was then!) Financial Management Scheme and progressing across sectors and roles to become a Director of Finance.

I am passionate about the NHS and also making the Finance function of the NHS the best it could possibly be. This passion often runs over to the dinner table as my brother and sister in law are both consultants in large acute trusts in the Midlands. In my spare time I love swimming in open water and raise money for meningitis as this has impacted people close to me. My stepson Charlie suffered with meningitis as a baby which resulted in him having a brain injury.

As well as a passion for improving the finance function, I also believe in the principles of shared services. I couldn't imagine any other large business having such a different approach to the provision of back office services as the NHS does. In my mind the role of the NHS is to improve the health of the population and deliver excellent clinical services. The vision of the Future Focused Finance 'movement' to release finance staff to be adding value to the business and not routine tasks is a principle I adopted for many years in the service. These were my drivers for joining NHS SBS last year, and as a previous client to take my experience and channel that into improving the service and also taking it to the next level.

I aim to put the client at the heart of everything I do. When I first joined NHS SBS I was blown away by the passion of the staff and their desire to provide a great service, as well as the scale of the work that is done, for some reason it was a surprise that we had the largest Oracle platform in the world and processed 7.5 million invoices. Sometimes in all of that we hadn't put the client at the centre, and that is a continual message from me to reflect on our approach. You will be the judge of whether it feels any different and I would welcome feedback on your experience. I also recognise we haven't and won't always get this right but I can give you my commitment to aiming to make this the exception.

One of my first instigations was the introduction of a service improvement plan for each client. Some of these are governed by a Service Improvement Board and form the basis of your regular catch up meetings with my Service Managers. I wanted to ensure that we listened and captured all client feedback and were clear about the actions to continually improve the service you receive. These are summarised, along with many other sources, into my monthly Client Satisfaction Board.

I am excited about entering NHS SBS at a time when we are making the biggest investment in our history as part of our Future Services Programme. This is a direct result of feedback from clients and our staff on areas that needed focus.

Overall we have 17 projects within the Programme that will improve our current service offer. The first release of these improvements has been very well received by our clients. We have received excellent feedback on the introduction of Near Real time Reporting and the pilots who have reviewed VAT automation are also enthusiastic. Our approach now of piloting new systems and services, listening to clients and making amends based on feedback is a real difference in our approach to making changes and one that I believe is more suited to delivering a better outcome.

Working with Plymouth, who are a demonstrator site for GS1 and PEPPOL standards, has also given us the opportunity to be at the leading edge of implementing this mandatory requirement.

The focus on the next few months will be:

  • the introductions of new scanning technology that will improve the quality of the image and speed up the process

  • more flexibility in the Chart of Accounts to enable improve reporting for our provider clients

  • the cleanse of our supplier data files to remove duplicates to improve our supplier set up process, and

  • to begin improving our Business Intelligence module following the recent upgrade to the software.

As well as improving our current service it's also important to think about the future. NHS SBS is very well positioned to attract innovative and forward thinking partners to enhance our service. I have a vision to make the buying and paying for goods as simple as possible.

We are currently working with an organisation to replace iProc to give a better user experience for buying goods, and we are also working with suppliers and clients to increase our uptake of e-invoices. I don't know why in this day and age we still process 25,000 paper invoices a day or make hundreds of regular cheque payments. I would encourage us all to look at our processes to drive efficiencies given the challenge laid down by NHS Improvement and Lord Carter, amongst others.

I started this piece by expressing my passion for the NHS and the staff that work in the service and my desire to listen and engage continually with our clients. Our recent Commissioning Roadshows with NHS England were a great experience to listen to clients in the commissioning landscape and improve our engagement. We have our next series of Provider user forums in November and I would encourage you to send delegates to these. The user forums are a great opportunity to hear what's going on in SBS and provide your input and feedback into our service.

When I was a Director of Finance receiving shared financial services I wanted the 'feel' that we were one finance function, now that I am 'on the other side' that principle and desire hasn't changed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and if you have any comments, observations or feedback please don't hesitate to contact me at stephen.sutcliffe@soprasteria.com

Stephen Sutcliffe, Director of Finance & Accounting

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