Alliance Medical Head of Legal, Darren Ramen
Alliance Medical UK Head of Legal, Darren Ramen shares his experiences as an in-house in the healthcare sector offers some personal insights on becoming and being an in-house lawyer.
Alliance Medical’s Head of Legal is Darren Ramen and Miguel caught up with him to find out more about the company, his role as head of legal and his perspectives on the work of in-house legal counsel.
Tell us about Alliance Medical, your role as Head of Legal and what attracted you to join the company
Alliance Medical is an independent provider of medical imaging services, which includes PET-CT, MRI and CT services. It is Europe’s leading independent provider of imaging services supporting NHS and independent sector organisations with their ongoing imaging requirements.
The Company provides medical imaging services to c.800,000 patients in the UK each year, employing circa 1,000 people in a UK network of more than 50 centres and approximately 50 mobile unit scanners.
Alliance Medical collaborates with the NHS across primary, secondary, community and specialist care to provide greater equity of access for all patients and a more streamlined pathway from referral to treatment and outcomes.
In addition to scanning services, the Company provides access to first class support through audit and ongoing education for radiologists, technologists and radiographers whilst also supporting an increase in the work of clinical research trials.
In December 2018 the Company achieved UKAS accreditation against the QSI standard across imaging sites in the UK, covering MRI, CT, PET-CT and radiography modalities in both static and mobile units. QSI was developed by the Royal College of Radiologists and College of Radiographers to support diagnostic imaging services to manage the quality of their services and make continuous improvements; ensuring that their patients consistently receive high quality services delivered by competent staff working in safe environments. The Company also has ISO/IEC 27001 and Investors in People accreditations.
I had previously worked with the Medical Director and Director of Strategy at BMI Healthcare (the UK’s largest private hospital operator) who had left BMI to join Alliance as the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer respectively. They had approached me about a short term role to lead the legal element of the Company’s bid for PET-CT services within England. That contract was meant to last for an interim period of 6 months, but after winning all 4 lots of the contract, 7 years later I’m still here!
I was attracted by the opportunity to work again with two, very well respected players in the healthcare sector. That really swayed it for me, as well as the fantastic offices on Jermyn Street in London (handy if you ever needed a shirt!).
Why is Alliance Medical a good place to work, from your perspective and what have been the highlights as Head of Legal?
I’ve enjoyed playing a key role in dedicated teams of professionals working to improve patient care. We operate a fairly flat structure, so everyone has a chance to contribute ideas to improving the business.
The opportunities for growth here have been fantastic. I started at Alliance Medical as legal counsel on a short, fixed term contract, but am now the UK Head of Legal in a large multinational company owned by a listed parent company in South Africa.
One of the main highlights for me has been the PET-CT project with NHS England. It involved working with stakeholders across the entire business and in essence 31 separate NHS host sites, along with NHS England. It involved work cutting across commercial, construction and property law. To win all 4 lots of this contract was pretty special and very much a deal of a lifetime from my perspective.
What are the key issues facing your industry?
There is a shortage of skilled radiographers across the entire country, both now and into the future. Whilst there is no direct impact on the legal team, we continually need skilled staff in order to grow our business. My team support our HR team with University engagement and shared staffing models with the NHS.
As a Head of Legal, what do you consider to be the biggest challenges for in-house lawyers generally?
The biggest challenge has got to be being seen as a facilitator, rather than a blocker of business. It’s a tricky balance to find, but having now been in-house for the last 10 years, the perception does feel like we are now being viewed more as business partners rather than people you go to when you have a problem.
What would you like law firms to do that they don’t currently do?
Provide clear steers, rather than too many options when advising on a particular matter.
As Head of Legal what do you look for in someone joining your team at Alliance Medical?
Commerciality, adaptability, resilience and pragmatism and someone who can develop a deep understanding of the business and sector we operate in to provide the most commercial advice or solutions for our business.
Why might now be a good time to join the company?
We are busy!
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that healthcare is a resilient sector to be in. As we come out of the pandemic the NHS will need all hands on deck to clear the backlog in elective care, so where possible we will continue to support and partner with the NHS.
Rewinding somewhat, what is it that attracted you to law in the first place?
Probably the glamour of LA Law and ‘that’ theme tune! But on a more serious note, I think my interest in the law was piqued whilst I was doing Government & Politics at A-Level. It was the very fact that the law pervades so much in society and everyday life.
Who’s been the most influential to you in your legal career?
Stuart Mathews (now a partner at MWE), but my direct supervising partner at Maitland Advisory. I worked with Stuart for around 4 years and learnt most of my drafting and commercial/entrepreneurial skills from him and the client matters we were dealing with at the time. A key aspect of my time at Maitland was to think outside of the box, get thrown in at the deep end, roll up your sleeves and continue the journey of learning. I’ve certainly got better at swimming! And I do always try to think outside of the box. The learning journey continues for me, and for us all, in some shape or form.
What memorable interview questions have you been asked along the way?
There have been a few.
One that stands out is ‘If you were in a circus, what performer would you be and why?
Other more thought provoking ones included someone asking me why I had attended the University I attended, based on my A-Level result results – I think he was saying that I could have probably gone to a better known one, although no idea if that would’ve made any difference to my career path.
Most challenging scenario has to be the part of the Army Legal Services assessment week. I attended a 3-4 day assessment around the time just before I qualified as a solicitor and was looking at different options to what I had been offered by the firm that trained me. The ALS role had been advertised in the Gazette and they sold it well with the photos of people abseiling and climbing and I went in with a very open mind. It was both fascinating and demanding. Part of the process was giving a mock advice session to a real life Army General in a combat scenario. When it comes to shouting, the Sir Alex Ferguson’s infamous ‘hairdryer’ incident would have been no contest! Fortunately, I’ve not had a client or internal stakeholder like that in my subsequent career!
What advice would you give to someone in practice looking to become an in-house lawyer?
Get exposure to lots of different areas of the law from an early stage in your career.
Don’t move in-house too early if it can be helped.
Choose your industry carefully. It’s easy to get pigeonholed.
When you eventually move in-house, be commercial, learn from and speak to everyone, undertake site visits, and understand your businesses’ processes from cradle to grave.
We all learn from mistakes. What have you learned that way?
Our 3rd child was born in August 2017. My wife is a partner at Keoghs and after she’d taken a full 12 months maternity leave for the first two, sharing the leave for our 3rd was something that really appealed to me (I ended up taking 9 months).
I was a bit apprehensive having the discussions with my then line manager and members of the board and almost made the wrong call to not take parental leave because I (mistakenly!) thought it would affect my career chances. Conversely, I believe it demonstrated that I’m a person with the character to go against the tide and make decisions that might be looked upon as risky and career limiting.
Actually it didn’t turn out that way at all and upon my return to work at Alliance Medical I was promoted to the UK Head of Legal role.
When do you think a company should recruit its first in-house counsel?
For a start up company, I would say from the very outset if the company can afford one. Hiring a lawyer helps not only with the day to day business of supply chain and customer contracts, but the whole strategy of how everything fits together including the less immediate compliance and policy things that sometimes get forgotten, but are none the less important.
What role do you see for AI, as an in-house lawyer?
Only from the contract automation side and signing side for the time being and only for much larger organisations dealing with multiple contracts (mobile phone companies for example).
How did lockdown affect you as Head of Legal and how has work changed at Alliance Medical as a result of Covid?
I’ve fared pretty well to be honest. A definite high is that I’ve been able to be more involved with the kids with school drop off, pick up and just generally being around. Biggest lesson learnt is just to be a bit more tolerant (as the kids would say, ‘just be kind’). Not everyone is in the same boat and everyone has their own challenges/things going on that we might not know about. Most of our central support team are now working from home and most meetings are now conducted via Teams or Zoom.
How do you support your own and your team’s mental health?
Speak to the team frequently. Weekly catch up with the team. As a business we also take this area seriously and have both internal and external resources all members of staff can rely on.
What ‘tech’ could you not live without?
At work, it’s simple. Two computer screens. It makes drafting longer documents (click and drag, etc) so much easier.
My other favourite piece of tech is my Garmin Forerunner 735XT watch.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Long distance running and spending time with my wife and our 3 sons (aged 9, 7 and 4)
Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?
Paul Gascoigne. Greatest player to play for England. Where did it all go wrong?
What’s the most interesting book you’ve read in the last year?
Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional Rugby.
Favourite holiday destination so far, and where next?
South Africa. Hopefully the Maldives and India when the kids are a bit older.
What 3 things would you put at the top of your “bucket-list”?
Climb Everest, cage diving with Great White sharks and a Lions tour.
Most annoying phrase you’ve heard at work.
Whack-a-mole! I’ll spare his blushes but it was a key stakeholder’s way of describing how, in business, you move from one problem solving challenge to another on a daily basis and no sooner have you ‘whacked one mole’ then another pops it’s head up!
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