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Insights into the Healthcare Sector with Tracey Barr, Independent Strategy Consultant

Independent Consultant Healthcare Odgers Connect

Adam Gates, Head of Odgers Connect, speaks to Tracey Barr, Independent Strategy Consultant in the Healthcare Sector, about the challenges and opportunities within the sector, her experience of delivering strategic solutions, and the future of the industry in the aftermath of a global pandemic.

Adam: Tracey, let us go back a little, can you tell us how you started your career as an independent consultant and why you wanted to work in this space?

Tracey: I started working as an independent consultant 17 years ago after I successfully took the company, I had been the MD of, through a trade sale. With the help of a career counsellor, I did an ‘options appraisal’ on a number of potential career choices that were available to me at that time. It was a tough choice, but I chose to become an independent consultant because I wanted the freedom to choose who I worked with, what I worked on, and how much time I spent working vs. doing other important things in my life (such as ,being an auntie to my newly arrived nephew, travelling, playing sport ….).

Adam: When you embarked on your career as an independent consultant, what were some of the first lessons you learned when you transitioned? Is there something you wished you had known before?

Tracey: One of the keys to success, in my opinion, is the importance of building connections beyond your existing network, including with independent consulting networks such as Odgers Connect. It is vital to ensuring you have a wide net from which to secure a steady flow of new and interesting project work at the right level.

Another thing I can’t stress enough, is to be comfortable with having no paid client work. This is not an easy one but as an independent consultant you have to be comfortable with spells when you have no paid work. You need to change your mindset and think of this still as work time – it’s just that you are using this time to think about your business and building your profile. I’d also encourage everyone to always think about the next project while you are working on your current one! For me, I always try to have two client projects on the go in parallel – that way I’m not 100% reliant for my income from one single source.

And finally, don’t be tempted to stay on at a client to do a project that really is outside of what you want to do – clients often want to keep you, but it’s easy to then become ‘part of the furniture’ and end up doing a role in the organisation rather than a project.

Adam: Reflecting on your career as an independent consultant, are there some recurring challenges you are facing when you start an assignment?

Tracey: I think it is fair to say that there is always a delay between agreeing to a project and starting. This is either because of finalizing the terms of the contract, getting set up on the client’s systems, or availability of key people.  

It is also not always immediately possible to build relationships with and getting the trust of client teams, but it is important to invest time in getting to know people. It’s been especially hard doing this virtually and remotely. Without these relationships it can be a struggle to get the buy-in and ownership of the work you do or recommendations you make.

Adam: When considering a new project, what attracts you to an assignment or to a client? Do you have a selection criterion on which you base your decision making as to which role you accept?

Tracey: I have a set of criteria that I assess project opportunities against. The two top things that attract me are (i) intellectual challenge – a complex challenging problem where there is an opportunity to work on something that makes a difference – and (ii) the person/people and level I will be working with – an executive team with people I like and respect. Obviously, rate and location do come into play, but I’ve flexed both of those when (i) and (ii) are met.

Adam: Thank you, Tracey, can you tell us about your favourite assignment/experience as an independent consultant? What is the proudest legacy you left behind?

Tracey: Working in the health and care sector, I have worked on many things that I am proud of. It’s a tough call between two very different projects.

Firstly, the Expansion Programme at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, where over the years I have worked on several strategy projects to secure the capital to support expansion of the hospital which will double capacity and significantly improve the quality care and outcomes for children with specialist healthcare needs.  I live close to Evelina London and can’t help but smile when I see that the building work has started!

The second would be my work for the London Health Commission with Lord Darzi and Prof. Yvonne Doyle, where I led the workstream on developing a set of recommendations for the Mayor of London on keeping Londoners healthy and well. Not all of these have been completed but some have or are in the process of being. As I live and work primarily in London, that’s very rewarding.

Adam: When you look at your sector as a whole, what would you say are some of the most pressing challenges the sector is currently experiencing and how can independent consultants be an asset to organisations going through them?

Tracey: Healthcare is having a hugely challenging time! Obviously, the immediate challenge is the instantaneous response and recovery from Covoid-19. I’m actually working with a Trust on its critical care strategy at the moment. I think the most pressing challenge for all organisations is the workforce one. There were already gaps in the health and care workforce, but the pandemic has led to an exhausted and demoralised workforce and many leaving the sector. Given the time it takes to train and gain the experience this workforce requires, this is the challenge that concerns me most – not just in the NHS but in the wider care sector.

Adam: From your experience, Tracey, what could and should be done to master these challenges?

Tracey: There are three main strategies I would prioritise at present. 

Firstly, managing the recovery from Covid-19. We need a coordinated long-term strategic workforce plan to help tackle the growing workforce gap, as well as investing in the wellbeing of those working in the service.

Secondly, we must address health inequalities. The widening of the inequality gap driven by Covid is complex and multifactorial, and it needs a government wide (party neutral) joined-up strategy and plan across departments to address the underlying drivers (e.g. housing, environment/air quality, employment, education, transport as well as health and care).

And finally, we should be focusing on the integration of Health and Social Care, where we currently witness an increase in blurred boundaries. There is an urgent need for the government to address long standing issues in adult social care that have become ever more evident in the pandemic.

Adam: Tracey, thank you very much for taking the time to share your vast knowledge and experience with us. Your insights echo what we are seeing across many sectors, namely the challenge for organisations to attract the right talent to oversee strategic change, transformation, and optimisation in the aftermath of the pandemic. Independent consultants like yourself are a valuable part of the solution to achieve immediate and actionable results for all our clients.

If you would like to find out more about any of the issues raised in this article, or you would like an informal conversation with Adam Gates about joining our network of independent consultants or hiring one of our independent consultants, please contact us.

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