High Time. A guide on the time it takes to recruit a Non-Executive Director for the NHS

High Time — A report on the time it takes to be a non-executive director in the NHS

2 min read

Posted 28.10.19 by Rhiannon Smith

  • Leadership Insight

Hunter Healthcare exists to help the NHS find talented people to serve in its senior roles – both executive and non-executive. We have helped NHS trusts and foundation trusts to appoint more than 110 chairs and non-executive directors (NEDs) and in doing so have spoken to thousands of potential candidates about the exciting opportunity NHS NED roles represent. Because of this, we have a good understanding of what motivates the best candidates – and what deters them.

“I am so glad you (Hunter) are doing this work. I think it could be very beneficial for encouraging potential NEDs to come in from outside. They are probably thinking they don’t want to join the NHS, but the reality is that it’s incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling, and you are really at the sharp end of one of the biggest issues in the country.”

Colin Drummond
Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

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 the 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 this report in late 2019, the NHS Confederation were just releasing 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 and makes a number of recommendations. This report will, we hope, support this process.