Hilary Brown has been a stakeholder governor at Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, representing the University of Birmingham, since 2010. She is a Fellow based within the Health Services Management Centre.
Every foundation trust’s council of governors must include governors who are appointed to represent different stakeholder organisations. Once an organisation has been invited to sit on the council of governors, it is up to the individual organisation to decide who to appoint as their representative, sometimes known as a ‘partner’ or stakeholder governor.
How many stakeholder/partner governors does BCH have on its council of governors?
Out of a council membership of 27 people, there are nine stakeholder governors including two universities, the local authority, PCT cluster and voluntary services. We also have a place for an ‘extended schools’ governor, a young person who is not a patient but has a genuine interest in health.
Why were you interested in becoming a governor?
When the previous University representative’s term at BCH was coming to an end, he approached me and asked whether I would consider taking on the role.
I was actually really keen to develop that sort of relationship with an NHS organisation because before I started working in academia, I had worked in the NHS for nearly 10 years, in different roles, so I already understood how the NHS operates. I thought it would be a really good way of keeping in touch with the challenges that the health service is currently dealing with, which would then help inform my own teaching and research, and that of my colleagues, and subsequently benefit our students.
From the University’s perspective, it’s also an opportunity for us to share our research with the hospital and potentially to work with them on specific projects. From the hospital’s perspective, we can help to raise its profile by promoting the work that it currently does and more generally, the needs of children’s services, through our teaching – using guest speakers from BCH to co-deliver sessions. Our students are drawn from a wide range of perspectives as we run the educational component of the NHS graduate training scheme in conjunction with the University of Manchester and postgraduate studies for senior NHS and internationally-based managers and clinicians.
Which aspects of your role do you most enjoy?
I have had the opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of initiatives including the recruitment of a new non-executive director, interviews for a director of workforce, and a one day strategy workshop to discuss the proposed new estates strategy. I have also recently joined the nominations committee which has just been doing some work on governor self-assessment. It’s fascinating – it makes you feel like you are making a real contribution.
Which aspect of your role do you find most fulfilling?
All of the governors get involved in reviewing aspects of quality across the Trust. The first hour of a council of governors meeting is a ‘quality walkabout’ where we get the opportunity to visit different wards and departments and other areas of the hospital. We are taken around by the nursing staff, so this has given us the opportunity to not only see the work of the hospital close up but also to meet some of its fantastic staff. The walkabouts raise a number of issues which are then discussed at the council of governors meeting. The nursing director then includes our comments in a formal quality report which is submitted to the board of directors. Following discussion here, an action plan is implemented to address the issues raised.
For one recent walkabout, we put ourselves in the shoes of parents arriving at hospital ‘out of hours’, perhaps because they have been referred there by another hospital or their GP and their child needs admitting. We looked at how easy it was to navigate your way around the hospital, later at night, looking at issues such as signposting and how we were met on the ward. We then offered suggestions for improvements.
This helps us all feel as though we can make an important contribution, especially as regular feedback is given to us at the council meetings about how our recommendations are being progressed.
What are the benefits to a trust of having stakeholder governors?
Ideally, I think it should be a two-way relationship, sharing knowledge and expertise which can mutually benefit each organisation. For example, I am able to share my health policy and research expertise with Trust colleagues, while the Trust’s practical experiences help to enriche our teaching. It really supports our University Department’s ethos which is all about the rigour and relevance of its research and practice.
What advice would you give to stakeholder organisations who may be likely to be approached to nominate a governor?
Make sure you appoint someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about the role and feels they have something to offer. Think carefully about who you put forward – don’t force someone to take it on as it won’t benefit the trust or your organisation.
Manage their expectations about what they will be doing as a governor – they are not non-executive directors!
As an individual, think about what you can offer and where you can really contribute. As with many things, I think you get out of it what you are willing and able to put in.