Tearing down the barbed wire fence

10 August 2016

Sometimes people move between the NHS and the private sector [or academia] and vice versa. For those who wish to do it, it is often described as throwing an old mattress over barbed wire fencing to engineer a dramatic escape. Maybe we should just take the fencing down.

Kevin Roberts, Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, was recently put on leave of absence by the parent group, Publicise, because of his comments on gender bias within the workplace, suggesting that women [and men] “don’t always want senior roles, they just want to do great work”.  In the ensuing obligatory Today programme interview, Kate Stanner, global chief creative officer at S&S said, of course, that “women do want the top jobs”.

The subtle point that she went on to make was reported less widely [using the example of a senior creative at S&S that only wishes to be employed four days a week so that she can run a production company one day a week] – that women [and men] don’t always want to work just in one place, for one employer, doing one set of tasks with one type of expertise. 

This resonated in recent discussions about the NHS at an event hosted by Beautiful Information, where we do not encourage staff to work for more than one type of of organisation at the same time. Too often, we try to resolve issues by just looking internally at the organisation that we are working within, or the next one down the road on a flimsy secondment. Where we do acknowledge the issue, we well-meaningly develop central improvement agencies, put conferences and workshops together, launch portals with examples of best practice. We even set up academic health science networks to encourage academia, the NHS and the private sector to work better together. Occasionally ,we hear of the NHS appointing from the private sector and vice versa.

Discussions went on to criticise those from the private sector for not caring as much about the NHS as those working within it. The exact opposite was argued by those working within the private sector – to analyse and resolve problems in a system, maybe you cannot be employed directly in it.

Over the next few years, as ideas around accountable care organisations, STPs and the Carter review play out, there will be greater scope for collaboration between the NHS and the private sector. Many clinicians are already used to this – a GP running a practice as a small business, a consultant surgeon doing a private theatre list on a Friday. Interestingly, the NHS has not exploited this opportunity for senior managers, from Chief Executives to Finance Directors to Heads of Information – how much they could contribute to new models of care in different roles.

Some questions:

  1. What would we give ourselves out of 10 for achieving collaboration between academia, the NHS and the private sector?
  2. How do we make it simple for people to move seamlessly between the NHS and the private sector so that they contribute best to both based on their recent experience?
  3. How do we encourage young bright things to work in Health? In Health Technology? Ultimately in Health Technology UK?  How are universities assisting with this?
  4. How do we build careers within the NHS that reflect people’s drives at different point in their lives – that might vary between the desires to, say, have job and pension stability, engage in study, receive a variable income incentivised on performance, improve their work/life balance?
  5. While the relationship between the private and public sector works relatively well for clinicians, how do we create this for NHS managers?

Answers on a postcard please…

Dr Marc Farr