How I made the move from NHS to private healthcare

Helen Dutton describes how her move from working in the NHS to private healthcare went

Oncology nurse Helen Dutton describes how her move from working in the NHS to private healthcare went

Picture of oncology nurse Helen Dutton, who describes how she has adjusted from working in the NHS to the sometimes baffling world of private healthcare.
Helen Dutton

When I began my nurse training 30 years ago I thought I would be working in the NHS until I retired.

But in 2017, after working in oncology for over 20 years – latterly as a Macmillan lung cancer nurse specialist – the pilot project I led was coming to an end and I needed a new challenge.

I joined Bupa, the UK’s largest private healthcare provider, as an oncology nurse adviser.

Delivering training using clinical knowledge of cancer and its treatment

My role involves providing telephone support to people affected by cancer. The role is a varied one, including taking inbound and making outbound calls. A typical day’s calls could range from how to cope physically and emotionally when treatment has finished to explaining how chemotherapy works and the potential side effects. No two days are the same.

It also involves delivering training and education to other clinicians and non-clinical staff using my clinical knowledge of cancer and its treatment.

Working in a call centre environment is certainly different from the NHS, and it proved a steep learning curve for me.

‘I underestimated how much there was to learn about healthcare insurance’

I had to adjust to working in a large office environment: new colleagues and new computer systems, not to mention the practicalities of mastering the headset.

I also underestimated just how much there was to learn about healthcare insurance policies: how they work, what is covered and what is not. I didn’t know there were so many variations.

What helped was a month-long induction on the basics, and I was then mentored for six months by one of the more experienced nurses on my team.

Signposting to charities and voluntary agencies

The working environment may have changed, but whether you are speaking to someone receiving NHS or private healthcare, some things will always be the same.

The shock and bewilderment produced by the world of cancer and its treatment means people still need support, have unanswered questions and need signposting to charities and voluntary agencies.

One of the surprising things is the number of people who have their cancer treatment privately but are unaware that they can still access NHS services and vice versa. There seems to be a misconception that the two are exclusive, whereas in practice they can be complementary, such as having access to licensed medication not currently available via the NHS.

‘Managers are keen to engage nurses and use the skills they bring’

The other area that has surprised me is the number of calls that are about end of life care. Often my calls are to explain what is available via the NHS, how to access carers, and the roles of district nurses, GPs and palliative care teams.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is being able to empower people. Working as an oncology nurse adviser means I have the flexibility to manage my own caseload.

Calls can vary from a one-off call to give advice on what to expect during radiotherapy, through to giving ongoing support over many months to a person with cancer and their family, from diagnosis to end of life. I have the freedom to spend as much time as the person needs.

Suport from oncology nursing team

Coming from the NHS into a business environment based in a customer contact centre means being open to a new way of working, but I have found that managers are keen to engage nurses and utilise the skills they bring.

I have had the opportunity to use my skills and knowledge to identify gaps in training for both front-line advisers and nurses regarding communication with people affected by cancer.

Although I still find some aspects of private healthcare challenging, the support and advice the oncology nursing team provide is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

Tips on the transition to private healthcare

  • The person affected by cancer is your priority
  • Take time to adjust to the different culture and focus, change of pace and IT systems
  • Remember that you are still a nurse, with skills and experience that are invaluable to patients and the business

Helen Dutton is an oncology nurse adviser for Bupa

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