Governance was a central theme of Robert Francis QC’s report on the failings at Stafford Hospital. While Foundation Trust boards and various regulators bore the brunt of the criticisms, the report also has implications for Foundation Trust governors.

This article is part of our series of reports on the implications of the Francis Report. For further information please see our ‘Key Points Briefing’.

The report emphasises the role governors have to play in the NHS quality agenda. Changes shortly coming into force under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 grant additional powers to governors and require FTs to provide information and training to their governors to enable them to carry out their roles and responsibilities.  The focus of the report is on ways in which governors should use their powers and resources to assist regulators’ oversight of standards at FTs.  A number of its recommendations will, if adopted, see governors playing a proactive role as quality watchdogs, forging links between the regulators, the FT and the public at large.

If these recommendations are adopted, FTs will need to reconsider their policies for interacting with governors and review the information, training and reporting mechanisms they have in place. Governors are to be a key source of information for regulators, so FTs will need to consider how they can deal with any concerns raised by governors to prevent escalation to regulators.

Governors as well as FTs may also need to consider how to deal with repetitive or persistent complainants who do not accept the findings of investigations or reviews. It can be all too easy to dismiss such complaints but this is going to be increasingly more difficult to achieve. Overall it needs to be met by a culture of proactive openness about performance information, both to the public and to the regulators.

Key recommendations relating to Foundation Trust governors:

  1. The role of governors to be clarified – Monitor or the CQC should publish guidance on the principles that governors should follow, particularly focusing on the duties of governors to communicate with the public and canvass public opinion on the quality of services.

    FTs may have to review their codes of conduct in light of any such guidance. The report also recommends that governors and FT boards should work together to develop a written policy setting out what role governors have to play at the FT and how they are expected to perform it. Such policies are to be subject to review by CQC.
  2. Governors should be more accountable, not just to the membership who elects them but to the public at large – the report calls for “regular and constructive contact between governors and the public”. It is not at this stage clear how far FTs will be expected to go to make governors accountable. Governor accountability to the wider public could require the publication of governors’ views and/or that the public should be given rights to remove governors. If any of these changes are adopted, FTs will need to consider practicable means by which governors can keep in contact with the public at large. They will also need to ensure that governors are sufficiently well-trained and informed about practices and policies at the FT in order to (i) mitigate the risks of damaging public statements being made by governors on behalf of the trust, and (ii) ensure that any complaints or grievances discovered are dealt with appropriately using the procedures that the trust has in place for their investigation and resolution - not needlessly ‘leap-frogged’ to board or regulator level.
  3. External training and support for governors – governors were generally happy with the level of support internally and the information given to them by the FT. The report nonetheless recommends that greater external support should be provided. Governors are being encouraged to act more independently of the FT and the board, and to “expose and challenge” practices. FTs will need to consider what, how and when they report to governors as a means of satisfying them that standards are being complied with. They will also need to ensure that there are robust procedures in place for dealing with any concerns raised by governors.
  4. Regulators to forge close links with governors - the report recommends greater use of ‘sounding board’ events by the CQC (who the report would like to see take over supervision of foundation trust governors). In addition the CQC should write to governors inviting them to share any concerns regarding the FT.

    The general picture is that CQC should increasingly use governors as source of information about FTs. Information provided by governors could impact on CQC registration and potentially negative feedback will trigger unannounced inspections by the regulator. FTs will need to ensure that information is provided to governors to allay any concerns regarding service quality, and will need to do so early if the CQC is to engage with governors. FTs may want to consider how this can be dealt with during the election/appointment and induction periods.

Seminar: The Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry - essential lessons for the health and social care sector

In the coming weeks Bevan Brittan is hosting a series of seminars across its offices to consider the implications of the Inquiry more fully. Following these we will issue more detailed briefings on what the Inquiry's conclusions mean for different players in the system.

The first round of our seminars in Bristol, Birmingham and London are now fully booked; however we have added an extra seminar date in London and a few places are still available - please click on the link below for further information and to register your interest for this event:

London: 14 March 2013.


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