My life at the NHSBSA
This week, on 5 July, the NHS celebrates its 75th birthday. Founded in 1948, the National Health Service was the first universal health system to be available to all, free at the point of delivery.
As we look to celebrate this momentous occasion, one of our long-standing staff members, Carol Miller, shares some of her experiences on how her career at the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) started, and how her work helps to support the NHS on a wider scale.
In January next year, I will have been a part of the NHSBSA family, in its many re-incarnations, for 40 years. Oh, how time flies.
I remember starting my first, real full-time job the day after New Year’s Day! I was a shy and timid young girl (not many will say I am that now!), who was nearly 21 and unsure what working life would entail. I had little to fear, as I can honestly say that I have been extremely lucky, as every team I have been a part of throughout those years has been welcoming and friendly.
I started working life as an Adding Machinist. These were the days when the Prescription Pricing Authority (PPA) was starting to go digital, but the processing division I was part of (Tyne Division 3) was still manual, as it was the last division to convert.
Adding Machinist? I hear the young ones’ shouting ‘What’s that?’. In those days, before computerisation, the only way to pay the pharmacist for the prescriptions that they dispensed, was for a colleague to write the prices onto each paper prescription form, and then pass each batch of prescriptions (for an individual pharmacy) to the team I was part of. Once they reached us, we would add up the cost of the drugs and the dispensing, on a ‘Plus Adder’. I would describe a Plus Adder as an old version of a calculator without electric or battery power! These machines were very clunky and hard work. They worked in principle, like an abacus (counting frame) but instead of beads, you had buttons. Each column of buttons represented base ten, starting with units on the far righthand column. If you wanted to key in 213, then you would press 3 in the first righthand column, 1 in the next and 2 in the third. As you can see the numbers only went up to 5, so if you wanted 6-9, then you had to press 2 different buttons e.g., 8 = 5 + 3.
When I became proficient at my role, I was ‘upgraded’ to an electronic Comptometer. This made you go so much faster, as you didn’t have to bang down on the keys, as it was electronic, and the numbers went all the way up to 9!
Finally, our division went computerised, and I moved from the Adding Team, as it was now defunct, to the pricing team. Instead of writing prices on a paper form, codes and a quantity were put into the computer. As it is today, each drug had a different code, so along with the quantity, the price could be calculated ‘behind the scenes. However, the system used was not as advanced as today's CIP pricing system.
The role of an adding machinist and a pricer, weren’t really for me. A year after being a pricer, I applied for a job in what was then known as Pharmaceutical Division. This department has now merged into what is now known as our Data Insight department. My initial role in Pharmaceutical was to prepare the pricing cards for printing, they were used by pricers. These cards listed all the drug and appliance codes that a pricer needed to input. The job entailed checking price lists that suppliers sent in to see if drug prices had increased or decreased or whether items had been introduced or discontinued.
After a while doing this role, I moved to another role in the department, on the British National Formulary (BNF) team. I greatly enjoyed the work in this team as it was so interesting. It involved finding out about new drugs and allocating a BNF code based on their drug classification.
It was when I was doing this role, that the organisation offered the opportunity for non-IT staff to apply for an IT role, due to their business knowledge rather than IT experience. As you can expect, there was a lot of interest, and although at that time I wasn’t lucky enough to be offered a position (mainly due to the number applying), I wasn’t disheartened. When I asked for feedback, it was suggested that it may be good to explore doing an IT course to give me the edge next time. So that’s what I did, I signed up to a part-time Degree in Computing for Business. It was hard work attending classes and doing course work in my own time, as well as working full-time and doing home things too. But it paid off, as after the first year, the NHSBSA offered IT opportunities again, and this time I was successful. It took me 5 years to complete my degree due to the part-time hours, but I feel so proud of myself for achieving this.
I’ve been in the IT department now for 22 years where I started out as a trainee and with hard work ended up as a Technical Specialist. My years in previous non-IT departments have never been wasted. It is this, along with my plethora of knowledge from working on different teams and applications within IT, that has helped me understand the business so much better.
I enjoy working at the NHSBSA, and that’s thanks to the fab team that I work with. Friendly, helpful, and always up for a laugh.
However, I must admit, in all the time I have worked for the NHSBSA, my proudest moment was getting the opportunity to be invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. What an honour it was to represent our organisation and be in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
I’m immensely proud to join the rest of the country in celebrating the NHS’ 75th birthday and looking back over time to see how it evolved, knowing I have played a part in that.