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Dawn Scrafield, Chief Finance Officer, Mid and South Essex, NHS Foundation Trust Career Story

Q&A with Dawn Scrafield

Why choose a finance career in the NHS? 

I started my career as a Qualified Nursery Nurse! I was encouraged by a friend to undertake AAT as I enjoyed maths at school and was frustrated about the commercial imperatives over the care for children. I joined a Practicing Accounting firm in Leigh and the opportunity to join the NHS 25 years ago came up I have never looked back.

What distinguishes a finance career in the NHS from other sectors or institutions?

I realised after joining the NHS the motivators for me were related to the alignment of my values linked with the NHS, particularly associated with caring about a public service and contributing proactively to make a difference as opposed to a profit motivated environment. I love my job and I love working in the NHS. The variety to get involved with a range of opportunities is there if you are willing to get involved. There is so much to learn all the time and the people you work with are generally there for the same motivating reasons. The NHS is a complex place to work, so never a dull moment and is constantly open to change, so the last 25 years have flown by!

What does it mean to you to work for the NHS, particularly amid the pandemic?

Working in the NHS, I am extremely aware of the pressures and challenges my front line colleagues are dealing with. It’s phenomenal to work as part of a team that supports emergency services, recognising how crucial it is in my role that we are responsive in the management of resources.  I was involved in supporting teams with critical decisions to ensure actions and issues are delivered quickly and escalation occurred swiftly to get the right resources in place to support the response. It is hugely humbling to work with talented and committed clinical and non-clinical people and to be part of an organisation that played a fundamental part in responding to the pandemic. It is impossible not to feel proud to work for the NHS, particularly with the massive public displays of gratitude during the early phase of the crisis.

How does NHS finance impact and support the frontline of the service?

Whenever I talk with my team or colleagues about the role finance plays in the NHS, I also start with my firm belief that when we chose to work for the NHS in the finance team, we should acknowledge that our primary purpose is to service and support our clinical and non clinical staff as we are there to care for patients. Our role in the NHS finance team doesn’t exist if we have no patients! Therefore, with that ethos I believe the finance team can have a massive impact in supporting front line services – everything from supporting them with getting the right budgets, costings, staffing, consumables, investments, to being part of the team that supports the innovations and the improvement opportunities. We are all experienced users of the NHS and we have insights, but we have our financial acumen and our analytical skills which can be used to support frontline services do their jobs with more resilience

Can you describe the career path and options for NHS finance staff?

When I decided to become a qualified accountant I was extremely motivated to focus on getting my professional qualifications. I completed Y1 AAT over an academic year and thought I could crack on! So I combined years 2 & 3 through class room based evening classes and open learning. I managed this with careful time management and planning! I qualified AAT in 1998 and at the time I received exemptions for the first year of ACCA, however I had to undertake 3 papers in one sitting and pass all 3 to move on to the next level. Times have changed now so there is more flexibility to enable people to juggle home and work life as well as study! I set myself the goal of achieving my professional qualification by 2000 and through planning each sitting in 6 month chunks, I had to take the leap of faith that I would pass as I had started the curriculum for the next 3 before knowing what the results were for the last. I thankfully passed and proudly attended my graduation with my parents. There are so many options for staff now with apprenticeship and open learning. Depending on the style of learning you have will depend on the best option. I enjoyed on the job training as it gave me a rich opportunity of experience.