Meet the Experts: Jennifer Abbott, Regional Head of Operations – Optegra UK North

22 August 2022

Please give an overview of your role within Optegra?

I started at Optegra in 2018 as a commercial manager in the Manchester hospital with a focus on vision correction and sales. After about 18 months, I transferred to the Yorkshire hospital as Hospital Director, with full oversight of operations and finances, ensuring safety in all aspects of our business.

When Covid hit in 2020 we streamlined our management team, which signalled the end of the hospital director roles. All Optegra’s sites in the north (Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds) were managed together. As a result, my role changed and I become responsible for all four sites ensuring that we had the right structure in place, that we were compliant and hitting all our KPIs. This included having enough consultants, clinics, theatres and optometrists to meet demand, and providing training in all pathways.

Currently, I am back in Manchester as the Senior Hospital Manager. It’s the biggest hospital in our portfolio so it’s always busy. My expertise lies in operations and finance, making sure we hit our targets. We also need to ensure we see patients in the required time, provide safe treatments and are prepared for inspections.

 

What first attracted you to work in this field?

I worked in retail since I was 16 years old but always wanted to be a clinical psychologist as I loved psychology at college and uni. But I found myself in retail – first as a local store manager at Morrisons, then a section manager and commercial manager at Marks & Spencer.

I was becoming a bit frustrated doing the same work every day but wasn’t looking to change jobs. I was actually helping my brother look for a new role when I spotted an Optegra advert and thought that it fitted my skills. I didn’t expect to get the job as I had no healthcare experience, but they could see the transferrable skill, and I would never go back to retail now.

 

What brings you joy in your work?

For me it’s making a difference to people’s lives, which is simply not a feeling you get in retail! It’s watching people coming out of theatre and being thrilled that they can see so well. It’s also listening to people telling us about how their improved vision has changed their quality of life, which is so rewarding.

As Optegra is a smaller business compared to M&S, I have managed to build solid relationships with my key stakeholders. It feels more like a family where everyone knows and supports each other. Colleagues have put their trust in me and I have pushed myself, taking a leap of faith to prove I could do the job. This has made me feel so valued.

 

How has your work been challenged/changed since the pandemic?

When Covid hit, the structure of our business changed – I went from managing one site to managing four. My workload increased hugely, I had more responsibility and accountability, and I had to be more organised, efficiently managing my time.

Our patients quite rightly have high expectations and we have had to increase capacity to cope with the backlog. This has been a challenge with staff having to take sick leave, difficulty in recruiting new staff/consultants and organisational challenges such as securing surgical products and chasing suppliers.

 

Greatest achievement/proudest moment of your career?

I was delighted to be promoted to Hospital Director having only worked for a short time in healthcare. I had to quickly learn new processes and ways of working, as well as understanding the NHS structure, alongside juggling family life.

 

Your perfect holiday?

I go to Cyprus twice a year, every year! I love it – the beach, the pool, the sea and good food.

 

Any unusual or interesting hobby/holiday you have experienced?

When I’m not at work I love to bake with my daughter. We have a new puppy, a jackapoo, an adorable and tiny ball of fluff!

 

Any unusual or quirky recipe you cook/cocktail you make?

I make a tasty pasta dish with spicy peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, chicken and bacon. I sometimes add spinach and leeks too. On holiday I love a cocktail – watermelon shoehorn is a favourite!

Jennifer Abbott, Regional Head of Operations – Optegra UK North
Jen Abbott Headshot
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