This week I was lucky enough to be invited to talk with a group of non-executive directors from trusts across the country as part of NHS Improvement and NHS England's Aspirant Chairs Programme. As well as an opportunity to support colleagues across the NHS who would like to become chairs in the future, it was also a chance to reflect on my own journey.
I have been Chair of NELFT since 2016, having already been a non-executive director since 2013, and in November 2017 I also took on the role of Chair for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. This was not a decision I took lightly but I genuinely believe that being a chair in common across both organisations has been a catalyst for positive change and supports the national agenda for a move towards more integrated, locality based care for our patients.
I was asked to talk at the event about my journey and the key areas I reflected on were preparation and challenges. For anyone taking on the role of chair, whether that is of one trust or across more than one, preparation is key. Understanding the needs of the organisation you are going into and more importantly the needs of the local community you will be serving is critical. Also understanding how the wider NHS system operates is crucial, even more so now we have moved towards stronger collaboration and integration in light of the NHS Long Term Plan. A chair spends a lot of time building relationships with key stakeholders across health economies so knowing who the key stakeholders are in the system and what their priorities are really helps.
We all know there are lots of challenges working in the NHS - finances, resources, estates to name just a few. Taking on the role of Chair for both organisations is of course a challenge in terms of understanding these issues and how they impact the trusts. It also brings opportunity to look at creative ways we can look to solve some of these challenges and harness the power and energy of two trusts to realise positive benefits for patients and staff.
I know that time is a precious resource for all of us and we would all like more time to spend with patients, deliver our services and to get through our 'to do' lists. As Chair I have to be disciplined with my time and ensure as much as possible I share my time equally between both organisations, not least because here at NELFT we are part of a number of different health economies. I need to ensure that between myself and my non-executive director colleagues we have oversight across our London boroughs, Essex and Kent. Having supportive colleagues on our Trust Board and a very proactive Vice Chair has definitely helped.
At the end of my session I was asked about motivation and what motivates me the desire to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients and local communities. This has to be at the heart of anyone's decision to become a chair of an NHS trust. It was a really inspiring event and I was so pleased to see so many people with a genuine interest in becoming chairs of the future. Being a Chair in the NHS is an absolute privilege and I am grateful for all the support and hard work of all of our staff who truly make a difference to people every day.