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Sarah Atkinson

CIPFA conference reflections: Sarah Atkinson

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This article is one of three iMPOWER blogs reflecting on the CIPFA conference.

As I arrived late (courtesy of an aborted attempt on the west coast main line followed by a fight with the M60) for the President’s dinner and conference in Manchester last month I found myself asking a question. Why this was my first ever CIPFA conference?

I have no excuse – I became a CIPFA qualified accountant on the NHS Financial Management Training scheme almost 20 years ago, so surely it must have been on my radar?  As the conference unfolded, the level of Local Authority domination became clear (not in a bad way!) and so I realised that my existence in the ‘health bubble’ had been the exact reason for my lack of attendance.

I joined iMPOWER six months ago based on my belief in the scale of opportunity at the interface of health and care, and on my view that public services must be aligned and reframed around the citizen.  And as I went along to the sessions, it really struck me that for too often we have considered our most valuable networking and learning opportunities to be with those we already know, about things we can easily understand – but we need to challenge this.

I learned about commercialisation in Local Authorities, listened to discussions about child protection and met several people who have been delivering an eye-watering scale of year-on-year savings.  And it made me think that if only we could connect and learn more across our sectors, we would find that between us we have the solutions, experience, capability and passion to really improve lives.

Making this difference isn’t about new structures, processes or central intervention – it’s about using opportunities like the CIPFA conference to build new relationships and new understanding.  The interim findings of the joint survey that iMPOWER and CIPFA presented at the conference show some positive signs.

Relationships across health and social care are good and improving (75% said they were good or strong, and 55% felt they had got better over the past 12 months), although STPs don’t seem to be the driver for this (only 25% felt that STPs had improved relationships).  Furthermore, the alignment across Finance Directors about the need to shift the balance of resources into prevention, and into proactive, community-based care to meet both health and social care needs, can only bode well.

But we do need to step out of our comfort zones and connect with each other better, if we are to make the difference that we are all so emotionally invested in.

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