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Board affiliate blog – Hannah Hornby – Feb/March 2023 – the role of NEDs

After what feels like the longest winter ever, I am very glad to be seeing lighter mornings and longer evenings as we gradually creep through spring. I moved to my new house last summer, so it has been a nice surprise to see all the new spring flowers come through, although I hope they survive this snowy spell. Despite winter having lasted forever I still didn’t find time to write a February blog, so we will call this one the Feb/March edition!

Last month I attended NED (non-executive director) induction training with NHS Providers so I thought that I would make the role of NEDs the topic for this blog. Before I started as Board Affiliate, I didn’t have a thorough understanding of the NED role and I think it remains a mystery to many colleagues, so I hope to demystify it slightly and provide a bit of insight into what our lovely array of NEDs do for us at BHT.

If you find a NED and ask them what they do in a nutshell, many will describe themselves as a ‘critical friend’ of the Board. The NEDs provide independent oversight, judgement and constructive challenge to the Board at a strategic level and seek assurance that we are meeting targets and moving forward in the right direction. The NEDs don’t get involved with the day-to-day operational management of the Trust as this remains the responsibility of the executive directors.

Our NEDs have a wealth of expert knowledge and experience, and they each bring their unique perspective to the Board. Some come from a background of accounting and financial management, others have experience of working within the private sector and some have clinical backgrounds, and it is this diversity which ensures that every decision that the Board takes is considered from all angles.

I mentioned seeking assurance, and I think it’s important to understand what that means if you want to understand the role of the NEDs. Essentially, it means to seek proof that what we say is happening is actually happening. This may involve looking at the integrated performance report (IPR)* and seeing whether initiatives and investments are having the desired impact on metrics, looking at action plans to ensure that measures are in place to improve performance or even visiting departments to see how things are happening on the ground. If there are gaps in assurance, then the NEDs may request additional investigations to resolve any unanswered questions.

As Board Affiliate I work alongside the NEDs and I have already learnt so much from them. I find it fascinating to hear their detailed discussions about the board papers and it is reassuring to experience their genuine passion for patient care, colleague wellbeing and development of BHT first hand. With that said, what better way to end this blog than with a few questions answered by one of our NEDs, Nicola Gilham…

Q: Nicola, what made you want to work in the NHS?

A: I have always been interested in the broader health and social care agenda and wanted my portfolio career to be in this area – being part of an NHS Board was a real goal of mine – I wasn’t sure whether it was a pipedream, whether I was crazy for wanting to do so – or whether my thoughts of being able to contribute in some way to this amazing Institution would be realised … and being part of the Board for the last 4 years has now far exceeded my expectations.

Q: What has been your highlight of working at BHT so far?

A: Working with such a diverse and professional team across the Trust – from the Execs through to those working in different parts of the hospitals and the volunteers  – a commitment and sense of purpose in their roles comes through more so than it ever did in my private sector career…

Q: What is the biggest challenge for you in your role as a NED?

A: Being able to digest complex Board and Committee papers in relatively short periods and then being able to add value to the discussion through scrutiny, constructive challenge and independent thought.

Q: If you could have any superpower for one week, what would it be?

A: To remove all aspects of ‘corridor care’ and allow our patients to be looked after in the right space and to give thanks, kindness and time to our staff, particularly those on the frontline.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that we might not expect.

A: I was for many years an ultra-marathon runner….now a Peloton addict!

*The IPR is published monthly and includes a set of metrics covering the main aspects of the Trust’s performance relating to patient safety, quality and our people. – it is included in our monthly Board papers.