Becoming a public governor and what it means to me

Peta Foxall profile picture

24 October 2022

Peta Foxall
Lead Governor
Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, prior GAC member

What initially motivated you to become a governor?

I initially started as an appointed governor and was so impressed with the collective way of working of governors that, when the time was right, I put myself forward for election as a public governor. I have now come to the end of my total term of office, having been a governor for nine years. Over that time, we have gone from being an acute NHS foundation trust, to one that provided acute and community services and following a merger this year become the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Being able to represent the community during these changes has been a great source of motivation for me.

Thinking about your careers, jobs, and experience etc, which were most relevant to the governor role

From the minute I left school I started working in the NHS and over the years I have worked as a clinical practitioner, researcher, trainer, and educator. I have also had the benefit of professional development in the NHS and in higher education. As a patient too, this role goes right to my core values and all of this made me feel very comfortable in health and care, which is invaluable experience for the governor role. I also think my experiences have taught me how to work in a team, crucial when representing others.

What do you think is the most important role a governor plays?

Governors as a collective are volunteering their time to support the trust and the community. I think in this aspect we are an asset to the trust, and this should be celebrated.

One of the most important roles is upholding our statutory duties. It is crucial to represent the interests of patients, carers, visitors, staff and the public, as well as to hold the non-executive directors (NEDs) to account for performance of the board.

What is your view on the importance of training, skill development and wider support for governors? Describe your personal experience of these and if they helped.

Training and development are very important and have greatly helped me and my fellow governors in our roles.

Internally we hold joint development sessions twice a year with the board, the executives, and NEDs. These have been helpful for board members to understand our role, and for us to know theirs. Through this we have developed better relationships and can fulfil our duties with more ease.

Externally NHS Providers training and development offer has been pivotal to my success as a governor. Mark Price (member development manager) came to our trust for an in-house governor development day. This event allowed governors and NEDs to spend the day with one another and learn about the differences between each other's roles and duties. This core understanding was essential to governor and board development.

How do you ensure the council of governors is as representative as it can be?

We have considered varying timings and formats of council of governors (CoG) meetings, which would allow younger people to attend. But it is not just about having young people or older people, it is also about accommodating those who work, those who are carers, or single parents, we need to be inclusive of everyone's needs and all meetings to be accessible. For example, we have two British Sign Language interpreters at every CoG meeting and this has changed the whole way in which we interact.

Tell us about any groups/committees/specific roles you have had and how you felt this added value?

I have contributed to several working groups, including the public and member engagement group and the nominations committee. The nominations committee is responsible for the NED recruitment and appointment of the chair. As lead governor, I had to chair the nominations committee last year when we were recruiting a new chair. I felt this added value as recruiting and appointing the right NEDs and chair contributes to the success of the trust.

As lead governor, I also chaired the NED remuneration committee and the CoG coordinating committee. In the latter, there is the opportunity to discuss and share governors' comments and ideas with the chair of the trust, director of governance, and head of communications and engagement with everyone having a focus on positive change.

How do you find the balance between building a relationship with the NEDs and exercising the statutory duty of holding them to account for the performance of the board?

NEDs have joined our CoG meetings in person or virtually, which has helped build a good relationship and ask them questions on various topics and reports. One example is around the integrated performance report, and it is really helpful to hear the NEDs' perspective. Generally, we found out that what matters to us as a CoG also matters to the NEDs. The feedback from NEDs attending our meetings is that they have enjoyed hearing our perspective and that we are holding the NEDs to account in a constructive, polite, and respectful way.

Do you have any examples of any impact you feel you or your CoG have made?

Annually we identify the quality priorities that we would like the trust to focus on. These have included end-of-life care, noise at night, communication with patients on waiting lists and staff well-being. By having these quality priorities, we feel that we can make the most impact on behalf of our constituencies.

What do you enjoy most about being a governor?

The thing that keeps me going are the people. Constantly learning and knowing that you cannot just sit there and not say something if you know it could improve the experiences of the staff and the communities served by the trust.

Any top tips from your experience, for new governors?

Always remember that you are part of a collective. Do not be demoralised by the fact that other governors may have NHS backgrounds and know the NHS inside out. Remember that whatever you bring as a governor will be important, and that we are here for patients.

About the author

Peta Foxall profile picture

Peta Foxall
Lead Governor

Peta Foxall has achieved a hat trick of experiences as a governor; from appointed governor, to public governor and as lead Governor of the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. She has now completed this nine-year term of service at the end of September 2022.

Peta is a previous member of NHS Providers' governor advisory committee and has recently been appointed senior independent trustee on the board of the NHS Confederation.

Peta is a clinical services provider, researcher and educator by profession and the golden thread that runs through all these experiences is that she is a lifelong patient and refers to the NHS as her other family. Peta is the current chair of The Wildlife Trusts and a volunteer for the Chatty Café Scheme.

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