Market conditions have changed and certain areas of how we conduct business that we previously had confidence in have been exposed, such as the ongoing strength of certain client relationships and our own live market knowledge. 

One issue that continually comes up is the time it takes to be an effective NED in the NHS. Our clients rightly ask us to find the best possible candidates for their NED roles and on their behalf we speak to everyone we think could add value to an NHS board. We are always delighted to hear how enthusiastic people are about the opportunity to contribute their talents to the NHS. However, when we mention the time commitment required, conversations are reluctantly cut short as potential candidates struggle to see how they can fit this into their already busy lives, which might include working full time and/or caring responsibilities. 

So, we decided to explore this issue further; not only because it was in our interests as a search company, but also to support the NHS as a client and valued public service. Our objectives were simple. We wanted to: 

  • Understand what the NHS is asking its NEDs to do and why it takes longer to be a NED in the NHS than it does in any other area of life. 
  • Make sure that those who determine the time commitment for NEDs appreciate the impact of asking for more and more of their time. 
  • Share the great work some chairs are already doing to reduce the time commitment of their NEDs and focus their energies where they add most value 

We think this report achieves our objectives. It sets out what we learned from conversations with more than 50 chairs of NHS trusts and foundation trusts, as well as 30 responses to our online questionnaire. It highlights the problem and challenges the NHS to do something about it. Perhaps more importantly, it provides practical support and advice to chairs to enable them to make changes for their boards, both now and in the future. 

As we prepare to go to print, the NHS Confederation has just released its report Chairs and non-executives in the NHS: The need for diverse leadership. It highlights the need for the NHS to take steps to improve the diversity of its leadership of and makes a number of recommendations. This report will, we hope, support this process. 

We want to express our thanks to all of the chairs who gave their time to this project. Some of them have generously agreed to be quoted and their remarks can be found throughout this report. 

Hunter Healthcare is not a campaigning organisation. Having done this work we leave it to others to drive forward change, but if we can provide any support to you or your healthcare organisation please do get in touch with our team.

High Time – NED Report