Global Business School for Health


Spotlight On: Mark Britnell, Visiting Professor at UCL GBSH – Q&A

11 January 2022

We speak to Mark Britnell, Vice-Chairman and Global Healthcare Expert at KPMG UK and Visiting Professor at UCL's Global Business School for Health about his career and the exciting UCL MBA Health programme.

mark britnell

After studying history at the University of Warwick, Mark Britnell joined the fast-track NHS Management Training Scheme in 1989, receiving his postgraduate education at Warwick Business School. 

His early career included various management posts in the NHS, time with the Australian health service, and a year in the civil service fast stream in Melbourne and Sydney before being seconded to the NHS Executive in 1992. Britnell joined St Mary's Hospital in London as a General Manager before being appointed as a Director at Central Middlesex Hospital (now part of North West London Hospitals NHS Trust) in 1995, when he was named Project Director for an Ambulatory Care and Diagnostic (ACAD) Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme - the first of its kind in the UK. 

At 34 years of age, he became chief executive at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, one of the youngest people to be appointed to a chief executive role in the NHS. He also secured the largest PFI single hospital build in England and established the first Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in partnership with the Ministry of Defence. 

In 2006 he was appointed as chief executive of the NHS South Central strategic health authority which covered an area from Oxford to the Isle of Wight. During his time as Director-General for Commissioning and System Management for the NHS of England, he worked with Lord Ara Darzi to develop High Quality Care for All, the final report of the Next Steps Review on the future of the NHS. 

In 2009 he joined KPMG as Head of Health for the UK and Europe, becoming Global Chairman for Health in 2010 and Global Chairman and Senior Partner for Healthcare, Government and Infrastructure in 2018, responsible for 45,000 staff across 157 countries. He now holds the position of Vice-Chairman and Global Healthcare Expert at KPMG UK.

We spoke with Mark to find out more about himself and the new MBA Health programme:

Your profile mentions you masterminded the largest new hospital build in NHS history. Can you tell me more about this and how important business or management skills were in the success of this?

I’m very proud of my part in building, what is still today, the single largest hospital development in NHS history; replacing two old hospitals with the brand-new Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I consider it a labour of love.

It took eight and a half years from planning to execution and boasts nearly 1400 beds as well as the largest critical care unit in Europe. It incorporated everything from clinical planning to master planning, construction over four to five years, planning permission, land applications, large equipment deals, large technology deals, and of course, it created a lot of employment in Birmingham. It was a huge challenge, having to move two old hospitals into one new hospital.

As you can imagine, it required a whole galaxy of skills and experiences. No one person or team could bring everything we needed, so the degree of teamwork between our clinical colleagues and the constructors and architects, the financing between our financiers and the NHS, and the political skills you needed to keep local MPs, and health ministers, and treasury ministers and officials on on-side, required a lot of effort. 

In that one programme, all of healthcare could be seen. The skills you need to achieve such things are vast. On reflection, building this hospital required all of the skills you’d need to be a global health student at UCL Global Business School for Health (GBSH).

As a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Health Sector for the World Economic Forum, how important is teaching management skills to students for the future of the health sector and what impact could this have?

I think it is massively important. Each country will spend, on average, 10.2% of its GDP on healthcare. Healthcare is now the biggest employment sector in the world. It is also, by financial size, at nearly 10 trillion dollars, one of the largest industrial sectors on the planet.

This sector is so large, it requires all the skills that human ingenuity can bring to it. I strongly identify with what the school is trying to create. I’m well-educated, I was a product of the NHS Management Training scheme, I worked in the NHS for 20 years in the public sector, and, for the last 13 years, I’ve worked in the private sector. 

It really appealed to me, and I was delighted to be offered the position of visiting professor. I believe we need more flexibility and agility between the public and private sector, working in now what is one of the biggest employment sectors, and crucially one of the most important sectors in the world. 

Is having an MBA Health at UCL GBSH a game-changer for the sector? If so, why?

I know already from, quite literally, the 50,000 or so social media impressions I’ve had on LinkedIn and Twitter, that this school is taking the educational establishment by storm. 

Make no doubt about it, this is a disruptor. This is a programme for good and it is disrupting the way we see healthcare education from a business perspective. UCL GBSH claims it’s the first dedicated school for health - it sits outside traditional management schools and MBAs - and I think it turbocharges the MBA of the future for healthcare. 

Dealing with life and death, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, healthcare is arguably the most important sector. Of course, we need to professionalise management in healthcare. That’s been going on for over 40 years, but this is the next stage in evolution, where we’re producing uber-modern managers and leaders to face the many challenges in healthcare for the future. 

Why are you excited to join as a visiting professor?

I’m really excited to be appointed visiting professor for 3 reasons:

Firstly, the course speaks to my experience where I’ve led organisations – hospital, regional, national, global, payer, provider, public and private sector.

Point two, there is great global convergence between many fields in healthcare. For example, just think of robotics or artificial intelligence, communications technology, medical engineering, life sciences, biosciences, genomics. The world is becoming ever more complex, so that requires greater intellectual agility and greater intellectual curiosity.

Point three, why shouldn’t we get the best talent in the world work in healthcare? Why should it go to financial services or professional services? Healthcare needs the best leaders possible. This course enables clinicians or managers or academics to come into the school and really think about their career prospects and what they want to do for the rest of their lives. 

What MBA health modules will you be involved with as a visiting professor? What will these modules teach students and why are they important?

I’m looking forward to lecturing and bringing my 33-year healthcare experience into the lecture theatre, virtual or real!

I’ve written and published two books. The first book in 2015, “In Search of The Perfect Health System” sold in 109 countries. My second book, “Humans: Solving the Global Workforce Crisis in Healthcare”, was published two years ago and sold in 100 countries. 

I have personally worked in 80 countries on 345 occasions, so I will really be bringing the world into UCL GBSH from a practitioner point of view. I’ve worked with the best healthcare organisations in the world - I believe every country has something to teach and something to learn - and I’ll be bringing all that learning to our students.

What would you look for in an ideal candidate applying to the MBA Health?

There are 3 things I would look for:

First of all, a track record of achievement early on in your career in healthcare or in associated fields such as life sciences, medical technology, or medical equipment. 

Number two; a global curiosity to find out what works and what high-performing health systems look like. 

And number three; a passionate desire to make a difference in the world. When you’re stuck in a job, most jobs try to drum out curiosity, so I see this as an important moment of gathering, for people to pause in their careers and think of their future. To regain energy and curiosity and then apply that to improve human life. 

What types of jobs do you envisage MBA Health graduates pursuing? And do you see a need for these graduates in the sector?

All of life and death is in healthcare. We’d expect people to be leaders in health services, to lead hospitals and health systems. We’d also expect people to be thinking of the convergence of data and communications technology. We know now, from what the pandemic has taught us, how beneficial digital forms of healthcare can be. 

There’s a growing life science and genomics industry, where we’re thinking about precision medicine and what that means for individual care.

The health service has the richest most complicated supply chains in the world. We’d also expect some to become logistic experts. As you can see around the world, infrastructure still needs to be built and developed, so there are opportunities there in construction and architecture. 

Another thing to consider is that only 4% of the world’s healthcare workers live in Africa, but Africa has 25% of the disease burden, so we’d expect them to get into economics, politics, and universal healthcare. 

As I said, all of life and death is in healthcare, and all industries flow into and out of healthcare. We’d expect everyone on this course to make an active contribution to society, develop themselves professionally, and stretch themselves personally as well.

What makes the UCL MBA Health unique? What can it offer students?

I think what makes this UCL MBA Health unique is its ambition. UCL GBSH is proudly proclaiming it’s the first dedicated business school for health in the world. In academic circles, that’s caused quite some conversation and discussion. It’s a punchy statement, but what lies behind that is steely determination and ambition to produce the next generation of global healthcare leaders. 

After this pandemic, when it finally ends, we will need global leaders in healthcare like never before. This is an adventurous, ambitious, and progressive programme which is designed to disrupt. 

What contribution do you want to bring to the school and future students?

I’ve had a wonderfully interesting career. I’ve successfully moved between public and private sectors. I’ve led at every level – hospital, regional, national, global, payer, provider, public to private sector. I’ve done that because I’ve always been curious by nature to find out what works, what’s better, to find what good or great looks like, and to have the confidence and intellectual capabilities to follow that through to ensure patient care is improved throughout the world. 

I’m delighted, after 33 years of working in healthcare and dedicating my professional life to healthcare, to give something back to the next generation of global leaders in healthcare. There’s never been a better time, there’s never been a greater need. 

Applications for the UCL MBA Health are open

Elevate your ambitions, ignite your earning potential and harness the power of world-class innovators with an MBA that will place you at the cutting edge of health leadership. Learn more about the UCL MBA Health.

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