This time around, I fear the combination of austerity measures (aka productivity improvements) and fundamental change at every level of the NHS (national, regional and local) may distract chairs and non-executives from their primary tasks of strategic planning and governance of services.
Earlier this year, anxious to support continuing improvement in patients' experience, Dr Foster decided to help boards with a report on patient experience in their highly rated Intelligent Board series.
Over the past six months, I have had the pleasure of chairing an outstanding reference group for this report: our job has been to help Dr Foster produce an up-to-date, short, practical report. We've been guided by feedback from NHS non-executive directors about how their boards deal with patient experience; by Point of Care's work on measures of patient experience; and by Dr Foster's knowledge of information from NHS boards.
The report, published today, will help chairs and NEDs fulfill their obligations to patients and the public in relation to quality of care. It will help them understand: how to obtain feedback from patients; how to collect data to support measurement; and how to analyse, interpret and present meaningful data in these areas.
This is not rocket science: chairs and NEDS with commercial backgrounds will be entirely familiar with customer experience and its importance. Nor is it difficult to answer technical questions about data collection and measures: NHS trust executives and boards are increasingly sophisticated and getting better all the time at managing information.
The difficult bit is tackling the human questions – how to change the provider-centred nature of most NHS organisations; how to reduce the time and attention that fellow board members habitually pay to monitoring compliance with regulators instead of developing their own strategies for patient care; how to keep the board focused on the difficult, messy, complex and painful business of patient care.
In the report the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust set out their top tips and lessons on how to make sure other organisations do not make the mistakes they made.
Their emphasis is not on measures. It is on the human aspects – it is on culture change; relationships; how to equip NEDs to know what it is like being a patient in the trust and how to build confidence in their knowledge of service quality.
Over the months to come, it will be absolutely critical for board directors to provide strategic leadership to help the NHS deliver safe, effective, personalised care. This report will help.