how to make a real contribution to the NHS

Based on our ‘Healthcare Boardroom Insights’ webinar; held 26 March 2020.
 

Our NHS has been a focus of national attention and appreciation, along with other key workers, as the ‘frontline’ in the Covid-19 crisis. Looking longer-term, many agree that more support for the NHS must be part of the ‘new normal’. For some of us, that could include making an individual contribution to support the health service.

One way to support the NHS is as a non-executive director, which the NHS requires a huge number of. The NHS comprises multiple organisations which each run a particular healthcare service – and each have a separate governance structure.
 
Joining an NHS board can therefore combine a desire to support our health service and aspirations to develop a non-executive career.  Our Boardroom Insights webinar on ‘Healthcare boards’ brought together the experience of Angela Henderson and Liv Corbishley, who have held quite different non-executives roles in the NHS and Melanie Shearer, Health Sector partner at leading recruiter Gatenby Sanderson. 

Here we draw out some key points. You can also access the recording in full here.  

 

You don’t need a medical or even a public sector background to be a non-executive in the NHS.

“I sometimes wondered what I bring,” smiles Angela Henderson, a financial services lawyer and Public Governor for six years at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Trust. Her commercial background was key to her appointment but the personal qualities Angela brings such as offering encouragement and appreciation to the executive team has also been ‘hugely important’.

Melanie, whose team at Gatenby Sanderson recruits an average of 2 NEDs to the NHS a week, confirms ‘commercial decision-making to ensure best use of tax payers money’ is a key requirement. She explains NEDs must combine this with an understanding of community value, as opposed to shareholder value.


There’s a huge variety of different non-executive roles available.

Liv Corbishley, a marketing consultant, found her first paid board role with a Clinical Commission Group (CCG). These are NHS bodies responsible for the primary health services (like GPs) in each local area. She was a Lay member for Public and Patient Involvement. “You’re representing the local community, which I loved,” she explained.

“NHS foundation trusts are quite a unique type of institution,” says Angela Henderson who has recently moved from being a Public Governor at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust to the associated charity board. She explains Governors are elected from a hospital trust’s local members, who are the equivalent of shareholders in a private company. A governor is a voluntary role which holds the main board to account and recruits the non-executive directors.  

Melanie recommends the Kings Fund think tank for accessible information on the NHS and how it is run.
 

You need to really care about the NHS.

Like many flashes of inspiration, Angela’s decision to get involved in the NHS was formed over dinner with a friend back in 2013. She remembers, “We realised it’s our generation’s duty to make the NHS work better. We need to own it.”

This coincided with Angela attending Women on Board’s Getting Started workshop, which she describes as ‘the most inspirational course I’ve ever been on’. She decided to combine her increasing interest in the boardroom with supporting the NHS.

Liv explored a number of sectors but found her passion lay in healthcare, and mental health support more specifically.
 

NHS boards offer a high level of strategic challenge. 

“These are organisations with turnovers ranging from a few hundred million to a billion, and with a complexity rarely found elsewhere,” Melanie explains. She warns of impenetrable board papers and unfathomable acronyms, but that the NHS actively values outside perspectives.

This chimes with Liv’s experience. “I embraced the pace and complex information,” Liv says, confirming she asked for a lot of explanations and Googled a lot of terminology in the first few months.

NHS bodies can experience a high level of change, even before Covid-19, which adds to the strategic challenge. During Angela’s six years the hospital merged with another, appointed a new CEO and multiple new non-executive directors. Liv found her CCG involved in legal proceedings and having to remove the Chair. 

Melanie explains the time commitment reflects this complexity. Roles require 3 to 4 days a month, including regular on-site visits. The remuneration is 13-15k for a non-executive director, though roles like Public Governors are voluntary.  

 

It’s hugely rewarding!

“I have absolutely loved it - I’ve been a governor for six years and I’ve learnt so much from it,” Angela says warmly. It also boosted her wider non-executive career, as she used the experience to demonstrate she understood executive versus non-executive functions when applying for her NED role with Credit Suisse. 

As well as the usual technical and transferable skills required by boards, Melanie adds that for the NHS, “kindness and caring is really important. Ultimately it’s for patients, which could be you or your family.”
 

Are you interested in an NHS role?

Despite the challenges, getting an NHS NED role is not easy. “I found it hard and I found it competitive,” admits Liv. 

Listen to the webinar recording in full to hear the experience, advice and tips on how to give yourself the best chance of securing a NED role in the NHS and the benefits of doing so.