This article was first published in the May 2015 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

This is not how interviews with finance directors usually go. One minute we’re going through the career history – all normal stuff. The next, we’re discussing the death of the interviewee’s mother. In the meeting room in central London, apart from Patrick Murphy’s voice, a silence descends. I’ve stopped typing and the click, click, click of the shutter of the photographer’s camera has ceased as Murphy says: ‘The last three hours of my mother’s life were incredibly difficult and should not happen to anyone’s parent. The care just wasn’t there. The irony is coming into an organisation where you hope you can make a difference so other people don’t have to go through that type of pain. For that day I felt I was living in a third-world country when I couldn’t get any help to my mum as she was dying at home. Coming here was like the gods pointing me in the right direction.’

‘Here’ is the British Medical Association, the body that represents British doctors. And Patrick Murphy FCCA is its finance and corporate services director. It is hard to think of an FD more aligned with the values of the organisation for which he works. 

The day before we met, the BMA had gone live with a campaign, ‘No More Games’, with the stated purpose of saving the NHS. Murphy says: ‘The NHS is being dismantled. One of the key messages is that all political parties are playing games, making soundbites and using smoke and mirrors while there is a fundamental problem going on.’ The campaign has clearly been launched in the run-up to the general election to keep the electorate thinking about the NHS but is set to continue beyond polling day on 7 May. 

The concern goes wider than what happens within the NHS. The BMA is also concerned about the lack of preventative action by government over issues from minimum prices for alcohol through to proper funding within the system. 

‘While government has to cut its cloth, the difficulty is where it is making those cuts,’ he says. ‘There is an argument for saying it is the wrong area.’ Murphy points to his home area of north-west London where closure of accident and emergency departments has led to greater pressure on GP surgeries.

‘Creaking’ NHS

‘The result is the crisis you have seen in January alone. The service is creaking – the evidence is fairly clear. The campaign is designed to press home the point that the NHS belongs to all of us and therefore British society should have a view on what happens next. The BMA is a passionate believer in the NHS; it’s worth fighting for.’

The NHS has undergone substantial change in the past five years and, in Murphy’s words, ‘possibly to no benefit’. The BMA wants to see the patient, patient care and management at the centre, rather than just a focus on cost management. ‘The danger is that cost has been put first to the detriment of the patient, and the BMA sees that as fundamentally wrong,’ he says.

The BMA might be a trade union and a professional association but it is insistent it is politically agnostic. It is not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, and does not pay dues to any political party.

Murphy is responsible for ensuring the financial welfare of the BMA to make sure that its resources are spent efficiently and effectively in promoting the best interests of the members. ‘For me it is not about generating profits or surpluses; it is about generating economic value.’ The BMA has refocused its efforts on ensuring that the doctor is at the centre of everything it does, hence the mission statement: ‘We look after doctors so they can look after you.’ That encompasses supporting doctors throughout their career as a professional association, trade union and as a provider of member support services. 

Murphy’s move from the private to the not-for-profit sector was driven by a desire for a better work/life balance. The 16-hour days of the commercial sector did not suit his lifestyle, married with twins. ‘Family is very much my life,’ he says. That may be so, but, as a member of the BMA board, Murphy has considerable responsibility in the workplace. The remit plays to his experience of more than just finance, with the job extending to the BMA’s technology, strategy and estate management. 

Overall, Murphy says, his role is to support the strategic direction of the organisation, and that encompasses providing advice on finance, procurement, technology, governance and estate matters. So far he has worked on strategic reviews and new business propositions, helping to draw up a blueprint for change and now working on its implementation. ‘There was no written-down business strategy,’ he says. ‘Now, we have a vision and mission statement and we know what our goals are.’ This has been promoted and shared within the business and among members, and was on prominent display in posters on
the walls.

Aiding him through all this has been his ACCA grounding. Murphy was attracted to the Qualification because of the broad range of financial skills it offered in areas such as law and technology, as well as financial skills. ‘The Qualification has given me a good grounding,’ he says, adding that he is looking to create a culture to allow more of the BMA finance team to train as accountants. 

All change

While the BMA is facing key challenges over its perception of the state of healthcare in the UK, as an organisation Murphy has helped it address some internal challenges. Looking back over the last 16 months, he says: ‘I have to be very honest with you. When I first came, the BMA was entrenched; it did things in a certain way. Since the beginning of last year we have embarked on a huge transformation process. The chief officers, all doctors, have supported the chief executive, me and the management team to start making changes. It has been a measured approach but it is happening; we are doing all that we can to drive positive change.’

For instance, Murphy became the first director to move out of his own office and work in an open-plan space, and others have followed his lead.

‘It was seen as a statement to take away barriers in what had been seen as a hierarchical organisation. And that transparency has allowed positive change,’ he explains. 

Over his career the theme emerges that he is capable of delivering change in large, complex organisations. And, with the chief executive and other officers, he is doing the same at the BMA. 

A three- to five-year plan sets out further improvements to membership to deliver the BMA’s values and to measure achievement. The technology change programme he is leading includes the delivery of a new customer relationship management (CRM) system to the business, which should enhance the support it can provide to members and reinforce that idea of putting the doctor at the centre of everything the BMA does. He is also looking to install a dashboard management system to help deliver key financial information more quickly – something he successfully delivered during his time at Samsung (see CV box). 

After the interview, we walk into the courtyard of BMA House, the Grade II listed building designed by the famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, which has been the organisation’s headquarters since 1925, opened by King George V and Queen Mary. Murphy stands patiently for more photographs by a giant Jenga-style tower in BMA blue, erected in the courtyard to promote the ‘No More Games’ campaign. BMA House resonates with an authority and power that imply it will be around forever – while behind its doors the transformation continues.