Guardians of public interest: the expectation and experience of non-executive directors in National Health Service commissioning boards in England.

Tweed, Joy and Wallace, Louise M (2020). Guardians of public interest: the expectation and experience of non-executive directors in National Health Service commissioning boards in England. Journal of health organization and management (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/JHOM-10-2019-0306

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to examine how Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) in the English National Health Service (NHS) commissioning bodies experienced their role and contribution to governance.

Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 31 NEDs of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and 8 Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) NEDs. Framework analysis was applied using a conceptualisation of governance developed by Newman, which has four models of governance: the hierarchy, self-governance, open systems and rational goal model.

Findings: NEDs saw themselves as guardians of the public interest. NEDs' power is a product of the explicit levers set out in the constitution of the board, but also how they choose to use their knowledge and expertise to influence decisions for, as they see it, the public good. They contribute to governance by holding to account executive and professional colleagues, acting largely within the rational goal model. CCG NEDs felt less powerful than in those in PCTs, operating largely in conformance and representational roles, even though government policy appears to be moving towards a more networked, open systems model.

Originality/value: This is the first in-depth study of NEDs in English NHS local commissioning bodies. It is of value in helping to inform how the NED role could be enhanced to make a wider contribution to healthcare leadership as new systems are established in the UK and beyond.

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