“Consulting in health is a unique discipline”

MCA Vice President Claire Kennedy, Managing Director and Co-Founder of PPL, a specialist firm in health and social care consulting, says 2015 was a good year. “Like many firms working in the public sector, we saw intensifying activity in the run-up to the General Election and a slight pause afterwards. The Election result caught everyone by surprise, including the winners. So there was an understandable desire to take stock and establish whether existing programmes remained relevant. Once that had happened, our business continued to do well.”

Claire says PPL’s performance was strong in all areas, with particular growth in the implementation space. “This was partly due to the increasing emphasis in health reform away from the commissioning to the provider side and also represents a conscious effort on our part to use our skills throughout the full cycle of transformation.” Claire suggests that PPL’s strength is in helping clients get things done. “We understand health policy deeply. But we don’t believe that’s nearly enough. It doesn’t necessarily change things. We are proud that PPL teams do achieve lasting change. We run major programmes, sitting alongside clients and handing services back when they’ve been transformed.”

Claire welcomes the innovation growing in the provider space of health service reform. “Commissioners have a critical challenge in articulating the outcomes that they want to see delivered and it is in provider innovations that real change can then be achieved.” Claire warns however that the intellectual and cultural demands of health reform will test everyone in the sector to the limit. “There are extraordinary people working in health, but the task of creating a sustainable Health Service will stretch skills, insight and capacity in every area, from policy, administration, commissioning, through to provision. The system needs a realignment in structures and incentives. That will entail new ideas and a real rethink of all the factors that affect the service, from our own behaviour and lifestyles, and the need for increasing self-empowerment and self-care, to the complex interactions between the NHS and other parts of the public sector.

“We bring our clients fresh and informed perspectives. Our aim is to ensure that engaging PPL enriches clients, leaving them better equipped to face the future.” Claire suggests that PPL’s approach is essentially a mix of ambition and pragmatism. “We help clients analyse their current situation, we work out with them what success could look like and then we support them up to implementation and beyond. We aim to leave them satisfied with a tangible success, and for things to look and feel different as a result.” 

Management consulting in the health sector creates specific recruitment needs for PPL. “Consulting in health is a unique discipline. Consultants must understand the sector. But that is not as simple as having worked in health. For the most part we recruit people with a strong track record in health consulting. From time to time we will hire other sector specialists but, as with our graduate recruitment, we select those individuals we believe are passionate about becoming consultants and transforming health services to deliver improved outcomes for service users and patients.”

Given the inherent complexity of health assignments, increasingly PPL will also partner other organisations in pursuit of client value. “Of course partnership working is a subtle business. For the relationship to be rewarding, a common language and mutual respect are essential. These are especially needed in partnerships between large and small firms. Large firms have scale and capacity. But small firms have niche expertise and understanding, which will be just as important to achieving desired outcomes.”

In Claire’s view, by far the biggest challenge facing the UK at the moment is the prospect of Brexit. “It is simply impossible to talk about business risks without reference to it. The referendum is dominating all discourse around our economic prospects. Whatever the outcome, there will be major splits in both main political parties. In the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008 there were many emotional factors in play. The same will be true after the referendum – especially as the losing side won’t go quietly.

“And we’re already witnessing emotion and misinformation in debates about Brexit and health. The notion that NHS will be saved by Brexit through reductions in health tourism is a distraction from what the Health Service needs to do to survive and thrive. More worryingly, in the event of Brexit the NHS, Europe’s largest employer, would potentially face real challenges in access to adequate supplies of labour and skills.” 

Claire Kennedy, MCA Vice President and Managing Director and Co-Founder of PPL, was interviewed as part of The definitive guide to UK Consulting Industry Statistic 2016.