Q&A with Roberta Barker, Director of Human Resources at NHSBSA
Part of Britain's National Health Authority, the NHSBSA is a Special Health Authority providing a wide range of critical central services to support NHS organisations, NHS contractors, patients and the public. Created by the merger of five, previously separate NHS organisations, including the NHS Pensions Agency, into a single, unique department, this re-alignment precipitated a transformation project of considerable scale. Roberta Barker, Director of Human Resources at NHSBSA explains the intense task the business faces with such a transition and how the recruitment and selection of appropriate leadership is critical to a successful outcome. She also tell us how Executive Online, the fast track headhunting company, took them on an unusually hi-tech route to deliver an unexpected, but highly effective, solution.
1. What led to the creation of the NHSBSA?
The creation of the NHSBSA followed a review of the Department of Health Arm’s Length Bodies. This review, which was published in July 2004, was driven by the goal of freeing up resources for the NHS frontline. The five NHS organisations which merged to form the NHSBSA were previously known as:
• NHS Prescription Pricing Authority
• NHS Pensions Agency
• Dental Practice Board
• NHS Logistics
• NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service Authority
2.What challenges did you face in becoming this single, unique department?
The task of integrating five companies into one would always be a complex one with multiple operational and cultural challenges. A specific project of this nature was best served by the deployment of an experienced interim manager who could help the organisation overcome the various change challenges it faced without delay. This strategy was successful and as a result the transition was completed. However with the interim project complete the requirement for a Managing Director, who could lead the NHS Pensions division of the new authority on a more permanent basis, became the priority.
3.What recruitment methods did you use to find the right person?
Traditionally, when looking to recruit new employees, the NHS advertises in the Times but in this instance we found that this delivered disappointing results. We recognised that in order for us to access a much wider and richer talent pool, the internet was likely to have a far broader reach. So, on the strength of its Global Talent Bank and impressed by its online acquisition model, we approached Executives Online to help us source exactly the right candidate for the Managing Director role.
We worked closely with Executives Online to convey our specific requirements and that relationship meant they were able to quickly deploy their resources to seek out exactly what we were looking for. This role needed someone with strong leadership skills who could demonstrate a proven track record of motivating employees and delivering improved performance within challenging environments. However, neither experience of working within the public sector nor having a vast amount of knowledge of pensions were prerequisites. Nevertheless, the NHS Pension Scheme is the largest of its kind in Europe (it has 1.4 million customers) so it was important for us to feel confident that the candidate could support employees through the proposed pension change agenda. They also needed to be able to provide effective management of our complex stakeholder framework that includes scheme members, pensioners, employers and the Department of Health.
4.What were the advantages of working with Executives Online?
Through its Fast Track Search methodology which is part of a unique, three stage process, Executives Online was able to proactively search its Global Talent Bank of over 60,000 pre-screened candidates in order to identify whether an existing optimum-match already existed. This process was further complemented by a comprehensive digital search of candidates using its online acquisition engine and web search tools. This bespoke process meant that a high-quality short-list could be rapidly assembled and the interview phase was quickly entered into. At this stage the Executives Online team provided vital support, often setting up meetings at extremely short notice.
Paul Barron, our director of Director of Executives Online North described it well. He said “The priority throughout this project was on getting the right candidate for this particular role. In response to this we made sure that we allocated resource to understand where the organisation wanted to be in the future and aligned our approach to complement their aspirations. As a result, 15 candidates were put forward following an extensive and additional screening process which we conducted on behalf of NHSBSA.”
5. Did it work? Did you successfully find exactly the right candidate?
Absolutely. Peter Robinson was offered the Managing Director role for NHS Pensions. His extensive experience of running large, customer-centric organisations and leading successful business transformation initiatives made him stand out from the crowd. Peter has also been certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt professional. Six Sigma is a quality management and process improvement methodology which was particularly interesting to the us due to the nature of the changes that needed to be made. We wanted to look closely at how NHSBSA could provide a better service for our customers and we knew that Peter’s knowledge and expertise of Six Sigma philosophies and principles, including supporting systems and tools would help us to deliver that.
Since joining the NHSBSA, Peter has also brought a real sense of empowerment to the leadership team and has swiftly grasped the level of operational work needed to ensure we continue delivering service excellence to all of our customers. He has surpassed our expectations and thanks to Executives Online we now have someone who can effectively lead the organisation and help us meet our future aspirations. Utilising the web is an extremely effective recruitment strategy and one which other organisations should look to adopt. Its responsive and supportive approach will no doubt see us turning to the Executives Online team again when looking to source exactly the right senior level candidate.
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.