Earlier this month I took part in elections to the Council of Governors of Basildon & Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the body that runs Basildon Hospital. Those of you who are members of the Trust (and, if you aren’t then you should consider joining – anyone can join their local NHS trust and take an interest in their hospital) and received ballot papers will have noted that I was not on the ballot.
For the past three years, I have been proud to serve as a Public Governor, representing the Basildon constituency on the Council of Governors, holding the Board of Directors to account, representing the interests of the local community, and acting as an ambassador for the Trust. The role of the governors is so important. As a Foundation Trust, BTUH remains part of the NHS, providing NHS services based on need and not on ability to pay. But, as a Foundation Trust, BTUH is more independent and accountable to the communities it serves. This means that instead of being run directly by the Department for Health, BTUH is accountable to local people through the membership arrangement. Being a Member of the Trust gives you a voice in the decision process of the Trust. The Trust’s independence allows it to make changes to services in a more responsive and less bureaucratic way.
It has been an astonishing period of transition for the Trust. Just a few short months after I became a governor, Sir Bruce Keogh published his report. As I had, by that time, recently been elected as a Conservative councillor for Billericay East, I was immediately tweeted by Cllr Gavin Callaghan (Lab, Pitsea North-West) asking me if I would resign, despite only having been in post for three months! This gave me an early taster of the level of political discourse I could expect from Gavin Callaghan but also the significant reputational challenges the Hospital would face.
As I said in my blog back in July 2013, the Keogh Report acknowledged that BTUH was undergoing a significant transformation in its management and governance structure and that there had been a change in culture across the Trust, dedicated to seeing improvements. I have seen that change take place, under the auspices of Clare Panniker, the Chief Executive appointed in 2012. Things could hardly have been bleaker at that time, when a survey showed that half the staff at the hospital would not recommend it to their friends or family. Being placed in special measures was a huge blow, as the necessary changes were all well underway (Sir Bruce acknowledged as much at the time). Morale was improving, staff were raising concerns and were actively being listened to.
I am happy to say that BTUH carried on down that path and, during my term as a governor, I have seen the regulators all endorse that transformation, saying they would be happy for their friends or family to be treated at Basildon Hospital. This culminated in the CQC awarding Basildon Hospital a “good” rating, as I reported in my blog last August. Our maternity care was the first in the country to be rated “outstanding”. Prof Sir Michael Richards, the new Chief Inspector of Hospitals, recommended to Monitor, the regulator of foundation trusts, that BTUH should be the first to be taken out of special measures.
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has praised the turnaround at Basildon Hospital in Parliament. Although there will always be more to be done – and if you shine a light on any NHS Trust in the country looking for problems, you can be sure you will find them – I truly believe we have good cause to be proud of our hospital. I know it is easy to read anecdotal evidence online, of stories where somebody has had a bad experience, but Basildon Hospital is now in the top quartile of hospitals in this country. It has now had two consecutive ‘good’ ratings from the regulators and the Cardiothoracic Centre at Basildon is state of the art. But, of course, I am biased – my wife works there as a nurse.
I hugely enjoyed my time as a governor. I have decided not to seek a second term, as my personal circumstances have changed dramatically since I took up the position in April 2013. Back then, I was only working part-time and was engaged in what I was quietly confident would be an unsuccessful election campaign for Essex County Council. I had, therefore, anticipated being a far more active governor than I have been. Then, in June of that year, I stood successfully in the Billericay East bye-election and became your local councillor on Basildon Council. I also got a full-time job in London later that year. It has been increasingly difficult to juggle these roles, so I have decided the time is right to stand aside as a governor. I am tremendously proud of what the Trust has achieved over the past few years, although my own contribution was almost entirely negligible. Much credit must go to Clare Panniker and her marvellous team, our hardworking Board of Directors, my fellow governors, but more than anyone, the lion’s share of the praise must go to the unstinting dedication and tirelessness of all the amazing staff at Basildon Hospital.
As a Conservative – even one who is married to a nurse – people tend to make certain assumptions about your attitude to the NHS. They tend to bang on about Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan and the creation of the NHS by the post-war Labour Government in 1948 (completely obscuring the fact that the Conservative Party also had the creation of an NHS in its 1945 manifesto). Like the vast majority of Conservatives, I am fully committed to an NHS free and available at the point of use, based on need and not on the ability to pay. Whether I think the precise set-up and current structures of the NHS, essentially unreformed since the ‘40s, is the most effective way to keep our NHS sustainable into the future and ensure that we are delivering good patient outcomes is, of course, another question (but probably one for another blog). Throughout my time as a governor, I have tried to be a critical friend to the Trust. I am proud of what BTUH has achieved and I am sure the Hospital will continue to improve.
I am deeply indebted to everyone at the Secretariat, who support the work of the Council of Governors, and I wish my successors and those governors who have been reappointed all the very best for the future.