By Samrina Bhatti, Manager and Dr Karen Kirkham, Chief Medical Officer

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It is with great pleasure, I introduce Karen Kirkham who joins us at Deloitte as a Partner in our Public Sector Health and Social Care practice and the firm’s new Chief Medical Officer(CMO). Karen has been a practising GP for over 30 years and, from 2016 to July 2021 was also the Clinical lead for the Dorset Integrated Care System, as well as a National Clinical Advisor for Systems Development and Population Health Management and Primary Care Transformation with NHSE/I. Karen will be continuing her clinical practice one-day-a-week.

Karen hopes to bring a rich clinical perspective to our leadership teams and is particularly interested in new care models and the use of technology to drive innovation within health. She is particularly passionate about learning from and promoting the adoption of good practice from around the world. and is looking forward to building strong and trusted relationships across our national, regional and local health clients. This week’s blog shares the insights we gleaned from an interview with Karen on her career experiences to date and her ambitions for her new role as CMO at Deloitte.

Q. What have been your career highlights so far?

Throughout my career, which spans almost three decades, I have been incredibly fortunate to craft a portfolio career alongside my role as a GP, which is certainly my first highlight. The privilege of supporting patients, from ‘cradle to grave’ and all that happens in between, and to be able to gain and maintain their trust, is pivotal to the way I think about the art and the science of medicine. Being recognised as the ‘Clinician of the Year’ in 2017, by the National Association of Primary Care, was humbling and definitely my second highlight.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have opportunities to lead initiatives at both a national and local level and use my experience to push the boundaries to improve care at scale. This included developing integrated frailty hubs and urgent care centres, redefining acute and community provision, using data to support a population health approach and driving digital transformation.

Moreover, as I reflect on the past eighteen months, I think my absolute career highlight has been in addressing the challenges and bringing impactful change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, during this extremely difficult time, I led a programme to embed the use of pulse oximeters nationally. These simple devices measure oxygen levels in the blood by a device placed on the finger, allowing early detection of deterioration in patients suffering from COVID-19. The roll out of this programme across the country took just six months and the learning has been shared internationally to contribute to improvements in mortality from this terrible disease.

Q. What originally motivated your interest to move to Deloitte?

Like many times in life when new and unexpected opportunities arise, I thought carefully and  conducted some research into the role and considered whether this might actually be a good time to consider a change at this point in my career. I was struck by two things: an amazing sense of positive purpose in Deloitte, alongside a breadth and depth of knowledge within the firm, which were inspiring and motivated me to want to join. The more I learnt about Deloitte, the more I wanted to be part of the health team and the firm. Importantly, for me, the culture and values of the people I spoke to, proved a very powerful draw. Additionally, the role itself seemed a perfect fit for my broad range of skills and experience and I could see so much potential for the firm and I. So I was both honoured and excited to be asked to join Deloitte in this new role as its CMO.

Q. What do you see as the key enablers and challenges to progress system working across the new Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)?

There is no doubt that the new ICSs are going to need time to develop, the experiences of other countries, all around the world, tell us that adopting these new ways of system-wide working take years to mature. In particular, it takes time to develop the right skills and relationships and to establish clear lines of accountability for the outcomes that need to be realised. However, there are some key enablers that can help expedite progress and define the success of new systems, including:

  • appointing experienced professional and clinical leadership
  • allowing flexibility and subsidiarity of decision making at a local level specific to the needs of local communities to proactively address unwarranted variation and inequalities
  • adopting population health management, as an integrator function
  • building cross sector system care records as a ‘must do’
  • developing the tools and analytics to create data-led insights to allow clinical teams to deliver high quality integrated care.
  • Patient centred design

Many of the challenges are long-standing, particularly the endemic workforce shortages across the health and care sector. These workforce challenges continue to hamper the ability to create resilient and vibrant systems that work well together and requires a focus and a plan to address the workforce issue. An investment in data management and the digital infrastructure, including tackling digital exclusion, is also critical to modernising and connecting care; with challenges around lack of investment being felt now more than ever.

Indeed, funding remains a perennial challenge as short-term financial settlements provide severe in-year challenges and requires longer term financial stability to be in place is the ICSs are to realise the benefits of system working.  In summary, connecting health and social care, growing social care support and creating a strong and resilient out-of-hospital integrated community service, needs to be addressed as a priority. Furthermore, addressing health inequalities meaningfully and influencing the move to a net zero transformation will require expert help and support.

Q. What are the 3 key priorities you expect to focus on in your first few months at Deloitte?

Firstly, understanding the business, how things are done and the way ‘teams of teams’ interact and complement each other and getting to know as many people as possible. I think that the more I talk to people the quicker I will be able to integrate into the firm. I am very aware that my background is different, and I have a lot to learn quickly, so will be asking lots of questions and taking some time to absorb and reflect on all of the different workstreams and identify how to best add value.

An important next step will be re-energising and supporting the clinical network within Deloitte, including looking for opportunities to expand and diversify the network and extend the support we can give to the health account.  I will also be working alongside Sara Siegel, head of the Health and Social Care practice and other partners to develop the clinical strategy and ensure we are well positioned to respond effectively to the immense changes taking place within and outside the NHS. The pandemic has helped put public health on the agenda of every organisation. There will be significant changes in the personalisation agenda, and in the role of industry in the market and as an employer, to create the conditions for better health and wellbeing. At each step I will be looking to raise the eminence of Deloitte and the work we do together.

Q. What are your long-term ambitions for the health account?

Quite simply, I want the firm to be the first on speed dial for clients; whether to explore our innovative thinking and suggested solutions, knowing we want to push the boundaries to the next level; or as a trusted brand with a reputation for delivering excellence every time. Deloitte has already established itself as an industry leader in supporting healthcare organisations throughout the pandemic. I would like us to continue to build on our reputation for working shoulder to shoulder with our clients to solve complex problems, provide leadership, inspiration, support, and new solutions, whilst developing long term trusted relationships across the health and care account. And finally, for ourselves, I would like to see a totally blended, integrated way of working, developing diversity of leadership and thinking/reflecting on what we are advising our client’s to do.

Karen Kirkham

Karen Kirkham  - Partner, Chief Medical Officer , UK

Karen is the Chief Medical Officer for Deloitte, UK. She is a General Practitioner and has over 30 years of clinical experience complemented with significant leadership and executive level experience, detailed knowledge of commissioning, transformation and delivery of healthcare at scale. Karen is experienced in the reconfiguration and development of new care models, the use of technology to drive innovation and the use of analytics and data to inform a population health management approach to deliver high quality care for patients and a better working life for clinicians.

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Samrina Bhatti, MRPharmS, PGDipGPP, Manager

Sam is a national award-winning pharmacist with local, national and international experience. Prior to joining the Centre, Sam was working alongside the Chief Pharmacist at Bart’s Health delivering trust-wide projects in service development and implementation. Prior to this Sam was the NHS England Chief Pharmaceutical Officers’ Clinical Fellow at Specialist Pharmacy Service, where she led various national projects on medicines use and digital healthcare. Sam is part of the global commonwealth health partnerships, an NHS England Clinical Entrepreneur, and a pre-doctoral fellow at Health Education England undertaking a PGCert in Healthcare Research Methods. Sam is also an associate of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics and Institute of Healthcare Management and has a Master of Pharmacy from King's College London and Diploma in General Pharmacy Practice.

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