Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s head of commercial ICT loves thinking strategy and is happy to spend her days writing contracts.

As part of her job, Catherine Grant modernises procurement processes regionally, and makes sure every contract Leeds takes on is up to scratch. It is a difficult job, especially when dealing with the bureaucracy that is the NHS, but the challenge is part of the fun, she says.

“Every day is different, which is what I love about it. I can be writing contracts, starting up sourcing strategies, supporting the programme, building up a picture of what our IT spend looks like and how we can achieve savings. No two days are the same, but that’s what fun is and makes it feel like you make a difference.”

That yellow belt in Thai Boxing

Grant never had a career plan to get into procurement, and claims she got her first job as a buyer in the mobile phones industry simply because of her choice of hobbies.

“I applied for a job as a buyer and only got an interview because I said in my CV that I had a yellow belt in Thai Boxing, and the guy doing the interviews had never met a woman with a yellow belt, so he was intrigued and wanted to meet me,” she says.

After that, she says, she worked hard to learn on the job. “I didn’t have any degree of qualifications, so it just comes down to the hard work I put down. I was always going up to them and asking what else I could do.” She says, adding cheerfully: “I soon found out I was quite good at spending money.”

Improving supplier relationships

After giving up on mobile phones, Grant moved on to local government, after which she found herself working for NHS Connecting for Health. After CfH went through what Grant calls “some quite significant changes”, she went back to local government for a little while before landing a job at Leeds.

“It’s been two years,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like five minutes and sometimes it feels like forever.” Over her time with the trust, it has changed a good deal. It currently has ambitious plans, backed up by ambitious IT developments.

For example, it is in the process of procuring an e-prescribing solution, a project headed by Grant. “We’ve been at it for a while and we are really keen to get e-prescribing rolled out,” she says.

The trust is also looking for a storage solution. “We’re procuring from a framework, but it doesn’t make the process any easier. I want to make informatics procurement smarter,” she says.

Although she loves working for the NHS, she recognises that it is not always associated with easy procurement processes and that, in the past at least, it has not always had good relationships with its suppliers.

“IT procurement hasn’t always had a great name. [Changing that] is about building up the skills and knowledge about how we do IT procurements; that ongoing supplier relationship is also hugely important,” she says.

“There’s a steep learning curve for us. The NHS hasn’t really invested in the procurement process properly; there haven’t really been people like me around in the past.”

Dealing with tech talk

Grant may be an expert on strategy and contracting, but she admits that sometimes the technical talk that goes on around projects can go in one ear and out of the other.

“The trick is to know enough about what you’re procuring at that moment and then move on. The key is to get the tech guys to get the technical specs right,” she says.

“Sometimes it all goes straight over my head, because I’m not very techy at all. I focus more on what should be in it, how to procure it, and how to see what a good contract looks like. I know it needs certain things that I look for.”

Her job means a lot of long hours, and Grant rarely switches off. When she goes home, it is to a husband, three boys aged three, 7 and 8, a 19 year-old step daughter (who is away at university most of the time), and a puppy.

“I couldn’t be a stay at home mum,” she laughs.

“The job is just as much my life as my home life,” Grant says, adding that she manages both with a lot of support and a lot of energy.

“I’ve got a very supportive husband and got a very supportive senior management team and flexible working hours. It’s important to have that home life- work life balance,” Grant adds.

“I always carry my laptop with me and my BlackBerry is switched on all the time. I’m quite passionate about what I do and there are times when there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

The downside of the job…

Her one bugbear is that her job involves a fair amount of paperwork, including the dreaded Freedom of Information Act requests. Her least favourite moments are when a pile of FOIs land on her desk. “I don’t like dealing with FOIs,” she says. “They can be quite cumbersome at times.”

Fact box
Name:Catherine “Cat” Grant
Family life: Married, three children, one stepdaughter, one dog and a husband
Least favourite work activity:Dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests
What gets you up in the morning: My kids or my BlackBerry

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