If you want real access and real answers to real questions about the NHS in Northumberland and North Tyneside, there are opportunities for residents to get more involved.
The NHS trust that runs the hospitals and other community health services in the area is calling for more people to join as members, which opens up the chance to become even more involved as a governor.
This is the key element of Northumbria Healthcare being a foundation trust, as these were created to devolve decision-making from government to local organisations and communities.
They have greater freedom to decide, via governors and members, their own strategy and the way services are delivered as well as having greater financial independence.
Northumbria was one of the first NHS organisations to become a foundation trust, back in 2006, and the current chairman, Alan Richardson, has called for more people to consider joining – particularly from Berwick or North Tyneside where there are shortages of governors.
“It’s all part of the NHS constitution, making sure that trusts like ours are properly accountable to the communities they serve,” he said. “It’s become an important corner of my life.”
The way it works is that anyone can join as a member – mainly people who live on the patch, but not exclusively – and then share their thoughts and ideas about the way care is delivered, while being informed about what’s happening at the trust.
As a member, you also get to vote for the governors or stand to be one yourself. There are around 60 governors – some who are elected by the members, some elected by the staff and some co-opted, for example, from local authorities.
The governors don’t run the trust, that’s the job of the board, but the non-executive directors (including Mr Richardson himself) are appointed by the governors following a proper selection and interview process.
The best way to describe the role of the governors is as ‘critical friends’, according to Mr Richardson, who chairs the meetings of the council of governors.
“They are quite lively, they don’t just sit there and listen, our governors are not passive,” he said. “They challenge, ask a lot of questions and have a lot of experience.
“The important thing is the trust can’t choose. They have a broad range of skills and there’s a mix of age and gender, but they are all volunteers and they work quite hard.”
Explaining why he got involved, Mr Richardson said: “I’m here simply to put something back. I have had a fantastic career, wanted to put something back and have always been interested in what’s happening over the wall in the NHS. I’m a fairly experienced director so I believed I could bring something to the trust.
“Northumbria is a fantastic place to work – it has values which match my own in many, many ways.
“I think the NHS is a gift from everyone to everyone and we have a responsibility for passing that gift on.”
He added that anyone at all who has an interest should seriously consider becoming a member and potentially a governor.
“If you have got skills, the NHS is interested in them. If you’re an ordinary person living on the patch, it’s not all about nursing and doctors, we are actually leading in some of the support services around us.”
Membership is free, open to anyone aged 12 or over and you can be involved as much or as little as you want. To sign up, fill in the form at https://tinyurl.com/y96uzx4u
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service