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IT Project Manager Career in the NHS

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Your career in project management in the NHS could start at Band 6 or 7, with the most senior roles rising to Band 9. Some of the most common roles within the NHS include IT Project Manager, EPR Project Manager, Technical project manager, Estates project manager, Finance project manager, Programme manager, etc.

In the recent blog, we will focus on the role of the NHS IT Project Manager. Our guest interviewee Peter Kinsey is a contractor working for 3 different Trusts in the North West of England. His career is a great showcase of how one can succeed within the NHS and make life better for both staff and patients.

How did Peter become a member of the NHS team? What motivates him to run a few projects at the same time? Read on to find out.


Tell about yourself and your role as an IT Project Manager

I spent 9 years at Unilever, working on a variety of projects from national to local. After that contract finished, I decided that the NHS is quite the right place for me to utilize my skills. I have worked for 3 different Trusts in the North West and at the moment I’m managing IT projects which are small and large.

There is a massive range of different projects within the NHS and it could be anything from the hard end refresh to the new applications to be used. We make sure that any changes fit for purpose, then ensure what changes need to be made and if this fits in within hospitals’ workflows. Then we would implement that with support and hand in details to those who make it complete. That’s a very high level, that’s how you would implement a new system.


What sort of projects are you involved in?

There is also an integration work that goes on between different hospitals’ applications. I’m currently working on 3 different projects. One is a 5G trial, which will eventually surpass a 4G. We’ve got to find a signal which we generated coming to the hospital, this is going to be a Trial of equipment to see if they can use better services or different services on mobile devices because with 5G you can get a lot more of information pushed through to the mobile device.

I’m also working on a blood tracking system, so that’s the implementation of a new blood tracking system for the blood sampling and blood transfusions. It’s all done electronically with health check scanners, that would scan information into the system and make sure it’s for the right patient.

I am also working on a dental system that transfers the images from the outside of Trust into the Trust.

Outside of the NHS, at the Unilever, I was working on everything from small like proofing concepts of different systems through to global implementations of TeleSystems around the globe.

It’s a massive variety of different types of projects that take place. A project manager should be able to turn their hands to managing anything, it’s how you are going about logical way of getting from nothing to something.


What stages of the project are you involved into as a Project Manager?

I can get involved from actually writing a business case that stands out why you want to do this project, who is involved, what it is going to entail, and how much it’s going to cost. Then the project goes into the process of evaluations to decide whether to say that there are funds to do this project through to developing what exactly you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You are bringing all the planning for all the stages of the project life cycle, through to the implementation stage including how to support teams and business at the time as usual. Also, you can get involved in the pre-final stage and certainly within the NHS, because you need to go out for funding, sometimes outside (you need to apply for grants, etc). So you get involved in every single stage of the project along the way.


What size of teams do you manage?

It varies from 2 and up to 20 people working at the same time. At the moment it’s just me working on bits of pieces but you call other people to do things. I could potentially call 3-4-5 people to take tasks for me during the process because you have to ask some experts to help.


Could you describe your daily activities?

There is no typical day. A day can involve a number of different meetings with people to either decide what they are going to go with or line out the issues that you have got or to gather information on what they what they want to do, what they want to achieve. It can also involve meetings with people to discuss some technical work; writing documents, writing reports. The typical day would really involve some of these, some of those. Sometimes days can go full of a tangent, there was one day when I found myself making a bed, believe it or not because we were setting up a smart room and I ended up making a bed prior to the NHS England CIO coming for the visit. You need to be prepared to do these things. Not 2 days are going to be alike. The typical day would though involve making sure that all your risks and issues are up to date, making sure that things are going according to the plan, talking people to make things done, chasing people down, making reports. etc..


What project management tools do you use at the NHS?

Typically, I would use Microsoft Project, I am now waiting for a license though. So I would then make use of PowerPoint Presentations and keeping a track of things like expenses and project costs in Excel - all typical products of Microsoft Office really. 


 What qualifications does an NHS Project Manager need?

Typically, an organisation would ask for an experience naturally, but they may ask for Prince2, Agile, qualifications of Scram or Leads - these are just all ways of doing things. Personally, I worked in a Prince2 environment for a long time, I don’t have any of these qualifications. It’s just about the knowledge of the way it’s working. 


What training is required in terms of entering the NHS from a non-health background?

You don’t need any specific training, but you need an ultimate mindset. It’s helpful if you have an NHS background if you enter into project management. It helps to understand the NHS and NHS systems because they are somewhat unique. The complexity of them is as great, if not greater than industry, and you have to bear in mind that if you work in the industry, if you make a mistake, then it’s going to cost some money. Potentially if you make a mistake, it’s also affecting clinicians’ work and potentially someone’s life.

Of course, you can get knowledge before entering the NHS. I deliberately made a move to get into the NHS. What I did is I took a backward step in a Project Management and I accepted a job in training in Warrington. They implemented a new system that I was trained in, so I had to train people. Then they kept me to do another work. So I gained further NHS experience and I started to understand how the NHS works, how the system works and how I can use my project management skills.

So there are ways in. Sometimes, if you want specifically target the NHS, you need to be pragmatic about it. Say, for 6 months take a back step in order to get the knowledge.


What skills do you need to emphasize and develop to become a successful NHS Project Manager?

Patience, communication, good planning, ability to certainly think on your feet and change the way you are going to do things because clinicians change their minds quite frequently. They’ve got the ultimate trump card which is if there is a clinical risk, they don’t want to do changes. If there is, in general, a clinical risk involved, you need to decide how to proceed. So your analytical skills are quite key as well as communication ones which is not only verbal but written as well.

It takes a long journey to persuade clinicians in changes that are valid and need to be implemented. You need to make sure that they understand why the changes need to be done and what’s the benefit to them. If they can’t see the benefit, they never going to sign for it. So you need to go, sit down with them and have a conversation.


What challenges do you face and how do you overcome these?

Challenges on the daily bases: people not being around to do things, people not wanting to do things. There is a resistance to change, especially in the NHS within the primary sector. Again it’s all about communication and negotiation with people.

Naturally, one of the biggest problems that you face is that sometimes clinical staff can’t make it to the meeting that you have set up. You have to understand that patients are more important, so you will have to re-schedule the meeting. These things happen all the time and you have to manage that.

E.g. today I surprised a senior consultant who I was supposed to be meeting at 10 am and she didn’t turn up until 10.10 am. She apologised saying she was caught up in some things and I turned around and said “Look, it’s not a big problem. I’m still here, we can speak now until you have something else you need to do” and she replied in surprise, “I’ve never had anyone saying anything like that to me before”. But that’s true. If they have something else to do, that’s fine.


What kind of person is an NHS Project manager?

Open, honest, communicative. You need to do what you’ve said you are going to do when you’ve said you are going to do it. Because when you build that trust with people, they will then work with you more regularly.


Does the NHS provide training for its Project Managers? What sort of training?

As a contractor, I genially don’t know what kind of training the NHS provides to its staff, but they will definitely provide training to their permanent employees.


Are there a lot of permanent roles for Project Managers within the NHS?

There are probably more permanent roles than contractor roles within the NHS. I am an accidental contractor myself: if there is a right job at the right time, I take it. My initial work at Unilever was for 3 weeks and I stayed there for 9 years


How can you progress within the NHS as a contractor?

You can progress as a contractor to the extent. As you are gaining experience, you can take on more senior project management roles. To be honest, you can’t progress typical way with the NHS, even with the permanent role. You can’t just get promoted. Let’s say, you are at the band 6 and you want to get into band 7. You have to wait for the band 7 job to be advertised, even within your own Trust. You have to go and apply for it, go through the whole process of getting a job. You can’t get simply promoted – it doesn’t happen that way.


What keeps you excited about Project Management in the NHS?

I like the challenges and I like the diversity as I’ve said there are no same days in a roll. I also like the fact that I can’t make anyone better, because I’m not that talented, not that bright, but I can help people that may help other people to be better.


What kind of job opportunities stand out currently for Project Managers within the NHS?

Everybody is looking at what they call “digital”, so certain things that can use new technologies to help make diagnosis quicker, clinicians interact with the systems quicker, in a more efficient way. Also, a lot of people are looking at the cloud-based stuff to see what they could do in that space. The NHS is being dragged into the 21st century with the use of technology. It’s the necessity that people move that way. Recently the Ministry for Health has been going on about the use of technologies within the NHS encouraging all Trusts to update and go down the certain route. It’s coming from on high and people have to listen.


Would you like to become a non-medical professional who improves the quality of health care like Peter? Start today and search for your new role!

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Written by Tatiana Romancova, Marketing Manager at GoToJobBoard

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