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The Business of Healthcare: An interview with Dr Jonathan Serjeant

I wanted to create a blog series titled The Business of Healthcare and interview leaders within the sector to shine a light on all they do and how much they have to contend with.

To me, leadership, management, entrepreneurship, HR, finances, staff and patients, KPIs and much more all make up the business of healthcare, but I wanted to know if others felt the same, and whether in fact they view their NHS organisations as a business.

I also wanted to provide a resource for those thinking about progressing in the field of health and social care to show them what an amazing and varied career they can have.

Since qualifying in medicine in 2001, Dr Jonathan Serjeant has held a number of roles and led ventures dedicated to improving healthcare systems.

He is the CEO of Practice Unbound, a company dedicated to helping practices and primary care networks save time, money and improve patient outcomes. In addition, Jonathan is Director of Creative Partnerships at Here, Care Unbound, a social enterprise dedicated to creating health services and solutions.

As if that’s not enough, Jonathan is also a Non-Executive Director and founder of Medical Imaging Partnership, and a Director of GP Networks, a networking site for GPs and practices across South East England. He is also a national lead for NHS Collaborate, a GP partner for Benfield Valley Health Club, and a clinical champion for primary care networks for the Royal College of GPs.

Each of the organisations Jonathan works for is different, but, like any business person, Jonathan is very conscious of his end customer.

“At both Medical Imaging Partnership and Here, Care Unbound our customers are people who want to improve the way we supply services and help people,” he says. “So, at the imaging company, that’s independent sector hospitals, NHS commissioners and NHS providers.”

“For NHS Collaborate, our customers are Primary Care leaders across the country. Contractually that’s commissioners, federations, GP practices.”

Looking after these customers takes time, energy and, of course, staff. The Medical Imaging Partnership now employs 70 people employed and Here employs 200 staff directly and nearly 200 staff on secondment. Aside from manpower, Jonathan concedes that his work does require “a lot of energy”.

But it’s also about vision and judgement.

In the case of Here, growing from 4 people to 400 didn’t happen overnight.

“We always knew we needed a team” says Jonathan. “Our first contract was about £1.7 million, so we built a team of around 16 or 17 people to kick that off. We’ve co-designed and co-implemented pathways and built teams in order to deliver projects.”

Jonathan admits that this growth can be daunting at first and you need to trust your team. He recalls the early days of GP Networks, his first venture into creating companies.

“Two of us set it up and then, over time, we employed maybe three people,” he says. “I won’t say we did it well, but we learnt what was important, especially around building ideas and employment.”

Growth also takes courage and judgement, according to Jonathan.

“You have to judge how much you can commit before resources are available,” he says. “With experience, you come to realise how to navigate the tension between committing to delivery and the time it takes to build a successful and controllable team.”

With all these ventures, there are bound to have been some bumps along the road.

“When we took over musculoskeletal (MSK) services and built the Sussex MSK Partnership, we were turning over about £12million,” Jonathan says. “After 18 months, we were turning over £60million. That expansion was stressful, because that kind of scaling requires an enormous amount of judgement and skill. We were learning and, in retrospect, we would have done it differently.”

Of course, it’s not just experience that teaches us, there is also a whole world out there to learn from.

Any business person knows that understanding your market is vital, and Jonathan is convinced of the importance of networking and understanding the needs of others.

“My role is to connect to the wider world and scan the systems to see what’s possible,” he says. “I think one of the things people make a mistake over is that they do something different, they experience it and then they try to sell it.

“Actually, you need to engage people at scale and pay attention to the things that are truly making a difference.”

Listening to the market in this way was, according to Jonathan, fundamental to the creation of NHS Collaborate.

“I’d turn up to conferences and I’d leave having listened to people standing on stages telling us how great they were, and I’d feel less inspired and certainly less understanding of how to do things,” says Jonathan. “We decided to try and create a cultural movement and a non-organisational based movement around creating better networks of relationships and paying attention to how people connect with each other.”

One of the keys to success is knowing which things you’re doing are effective and doing more of the things that work, and less of the things that don’t work so well.

“We’ve invested really good data systems,” says Jonathan. “When we took over Sussex MSK Partnership, we needed to really understand where people were in the system, what was happening in terms of outcomes, and what decisions clinicians were making. We built our own data systems to see that.”

With the right data, he says, “you can see the difference happening.”

It’s interesting to hear from Jonathan about the many ventures he’s involved in and everything he’s learnt along the way. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from all this is Jonathan’s keen focus on his customers, and his determination to listen and understand what people actually need and deliver the solutions to match.

We’re all capable of having a great idea, but Jonathan’s reflections remind us that it’s what really works that really matters.

Tara Humphrey is the founder of THC Primary Care, a leading healthcare consultancy specialising in workforce transformation and the only consultancy to have worked with 11 Training Hubs across South London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Tara and her team also work with GP federations supporting the implementation of clinical services.

Tara has over 20 years of project management and business development experience across the private and public sector and has an MBA in Leadership and Management in Healthcare, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care and is the author of over 100 blogs.

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