My story: From graduate to Regional Finance Director for the South East at NHS England

BSc Economics alumni, Hannah Hamilton, shares how an interest in healthcare and the NHS led her to become Regional Finance Director for the South East at NHS England.

By Hannah Hamilton.

At Bristol my degree was in Economics and Maths. I chose this as I really enjoyed understanding the macro and micro impacts of policy, models and money on the world, the economy and business. This grounding set me up brilliantly when I decided I fancied a career in Finance – ideally working for a big company with a graduate scheme and where I could get a CIMA accounting qualification.

I was fortunate to get a place on the Nestle graduate finance scheme and had a great 2 years learning the ropes in factories, audit, head office and divisional teams. I then did a fun Sales finance role but decided to leave after a few years to go travelling. I worked for Virgin Mobile whilst in Sydney and then on returning to the UK landed a job (with great free flight perks!) at Virgin Atlantic. I was there for 10 years doing a variety of finance roles covering sales, marketing, customer experience and then Head of finance responsible for all management accounting and overseas finance teams.

This was all great; however hidden within me was this great fascination and interest in healthcare and the NHS and the feeling that having worked in the private sector for 17 years maybe it was time to give something for the public good. It just so happened that one wintry Sunday morning in late 2013, I was flicking through the Sunday Times paper and my eyes stopped at an advert for the NHS Fast Track executive programme – an initiative to bring people in from outside the NHS and to encourage clinicians into Executive roles. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to apply.

So after a few rounds of interviews I left my world of travel perks as one of the chosen 50 (including 14 picked from the thousands that applied from outside the NHS) and on my first day June 1st 2014 was on my way to Harvard University for a month of intensive education on health policy, leadership and international health systems. Whilst on the 9 month programme, I worked at St George’s hospital in London and then moved to Royal Surrey hospital as Director of Operational Finance. This was a steep learning curve having come from outside the NHS  – I led all the Finance, contracting and procurement.

After a couple of years I decided I wanted a role where I could influence over a wider area and moved to be Regional Finance Director for the South East at NHS England. My role is hugely varied. I manage the regional NHS budget of £17bn which includes funds allocated to clinical commissioning groups, NHS hospitals and primary care across a South East population of 9.3 million people. I support the healthcare systems in the South East to ensure effective financial performance and I’m a key contributor to NHS national financial strategy, implementing political and national priorities.

During the Covid pandemic there was huge change and we had to ensure money flowed and every system had plans and resource to deliver the very best care to patients. At this time I also took on an additional role outside of Finance  – I was the Director leading the South East NHS Covid-19 Testing response, strategy and implementation from April 2020 to June 2021. I knew nothing about Testing or Pathology but learned it quickly on yet another steep learning curve!

The NHS is so large that the variety of roles and opportunities is immense. I would encourage anyone to join the NHS. There is a hugely supportive network and everyone is passionate about making things better for our patients and population. It really is the best reason to go to work in the morning.

For more information about the School of Economics, and starting your amazing story, visit our website.