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A Q&A with Beth Fleming – breaking down barriers within the NHS and public sector finance

by Adam Rouse | 6 March 2020

This year International Women’s Day is spreading the message #EachforEqual and is looking at how “we can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements”. This is a great message and something I feel is hugely important today, especially within the finance and accountancy sector which I predominantly recruit for.

Finance has been associated as a very male dominated sector for a long time, but more recently female finance professionals are proving that anyone can reach the top and succeed in this highly rewarding sector. I work with a number of strong female professionals across my NHS client base, many of whom are striving to make the sector a more diverse and inclusive place to work.

I recently sat down with Beth Fleming, Head of Strategy, Planning and Partnerships at Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust and HFMA Chair, to find out about her career and to get her thoughts on what it takes to be a success within public sector finance.

Can you tell me about your career and experience to date?

This year is my 30th anniversary of working within the NHS after joining in 1990. I started as an Internal Auditor for North Derbyshire Health Authority and, after nine months, was successful in being accepted onto the Graduate Regional Finance Trainee scheme.

I qualified as a CIPFA accountant in 1996 which was one of the proudest moments of my life to date. I then worked my way up the career ladder in various roles across the NHS and in 2013, I became deputy CFO for NHS Hardwick CCG. In 2016, I was approached by my now manager in Derbyshire Health Service NHS FT to see if I would be interested in taking a role which was more strategic, whilst maintaining a financial link through contracting, income and commercial development, which I gladly accepted. I have also become responsible for the procurement team whilst in post.

I am now in my fourth year in this role and absolutely loving it. I have the opportunity to challenge myself every day and stretch my knowledge which is so important to me as a female finance professional.

What motivates you to be successful?

I have two daughters and I want them to see how important it is to have a fulfilling career and a voice in society. It doesn’t matter to me what they do as long as they do it to the best of their ability and they are happy, fulfilled and kind to people along the way. The NHS has always been an exceptional employer to me and I feel that I owe it to them to be the best that I can possibly be, and I hope my two children grow up to have the same mentality wherever they end up working.

As a manager I am also incredibly motivated to see my team developing. I absolutely love how supportive we all are of each other, which means we get to try new things and work together towards a common goal. This is hugely important in any environment, especially one as stressful as public sector finance. No two days are the same within the NHS – which I wouldn’t change for the world – but you need a solid team that you trust around you in order to get the work done and really make a difference.

As a woman working in the NHS and finance industry, have you ever faced any discrimination or felt you had fewer opportunities?

NHS finance is traditionally a male dominated environment – as is the finance and accountancy sector in general – especially when looking at it at a senior level. In 2017, just 28 percent were women and women are still largely under-represented at bands 8c and above, although they account for 61 percent of the workforce overall. I know this is something the NHS is working towards addressing, and we have made huge strides in recent years, but I do believe more needs to be done to balance everything out.

The HFMA works hard to understand this dynamic and puts programmes in place to support women and people in ethnic minorities to be successful. The East Midlands Branch of the HFMA recognises this and, at our recent conference, invited Sandra Easton, Director of Operational Finance and Performance of NHSI/E, to present on “Diversity in NHS Finance”. This was a fantastic opportunity to hear from someone incredibly passionate about EDI and gave us lots to think about as to what we can do to support more women and minorities into roles across the NHS.

It is also great to see support mechanisms being introduced across all sectors to support more woman working towards senior leadership roles. The NHS leadership academy is a great example of this. The NHS leadership academy actively promotes strong female role models from within the NHS and offers the support that leaders need to achieve their ambitions. Although this is open to everyone, they do have a specific focus on helping women and minorities, which I think is admirable.

How does it feel to be appointed as East Midlands HFMA Branch Chair?

It is an honour to be appointed. It is also amazing to see so many women represented across HFMA. I recently attended a national HFMA Branch Chair's meeting and six out of the seven new chairs were women. A fantastic achievement!

Is there anything you want to achieve as East Midlands HFMA Branch Chair?

I would like to develop an HFMA ‘champion’ in every organisation within the boundaries of the branch, much like the Future Focused Finance (FFF) value makers. I would like to see a nominated member of each finance or procurement team who could take responsibility for becoming HFMA members, sharing HFMA news bulletins, encouraging team members to attend events and generally spread the news of this valuable resource within our health communities.

I would also like to develop the nascent relationship between FFF and the Skills Development Network (SDN) so that our vision and objectives are shared between the three bodies and within the wider community.

What advice do you have for women looking at your success and wanting to achieve the same? 

Work hard, use the resources available to you through your employer, professional accountancy body or HFMA and ensure you build and motivate a successful team around you. There is a wealth of support out there to help you achieve your career aims, and if you ask for help, and use what is available I’m sure you will achieve great success. 

Can we help you?

If you are looking for a finance opportunity within the NHS or would like advice on how you can build a successful career, get in touch. We would be delighted to help.

Alternatively, you can browse our latest NHS jobs or check out or dedicated Candidate Resources section to help you with your next career move.