Taskforce on Increasing Non-Executive Director Diversity in the NHS

An independent taskforce to improve diversity within the NHS's non-executive community.
Diverse group sat around a boardroom table

Chairs and non-executive directors are crucial to providing the governance needed to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan. They also play a key role in driving forward transformational change across the health service.

But as a community of leaders, they are often not representative of the staff they govern or inclusive of the communities they serve. 

Research suggests that they are insufficiently diverse across gender, race, disability and age to be as effective as they need to be.

Taking action

To address this, the NHS Confederation is establishing an independent taskforce to improve the diversity of chairs and non-executive directors in the NHS.

Made up of senior leaders from across the NHS, the taskforce will consider the recruitment processes and retention strategies needed to diversify the composition of NHS boards and governing bodies.

It will work closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement and will be supported by Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, and Prerana Issar, chief people officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Joan Saddler, director of partnerships and equality at the NHS Confederation, and Dr Clare Gerada, co-chair of the NHS Assembly, will chair the taskforce. 

Find out more about the working group, its members and why diverse leadership matters for the sustainability of the NHS.

  • Diversity in leadership is important for the future of the NHS.  

    Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is about having best practice in the governance of organisations and better engagement with the staff. For the NHS, this will lead to significant improvements in the standards of care delivered within its institutions.

    However, EDI is an area that the NHS needs to make significant progress in to reflect the spirit of the equality and diversity legislation and the NHS’ stated ambition to create a more diverse leadership.

    A critical part of the solution is ensuring the chairs and non-executives on the boards of NHS organisations reflect the workforce they govern and are inclusive of the communities they serve. That's why we have set up an independent taskforce to increase the diversity of non-executive directors in the NHS

    Organisational development

    Appointing the right chair and non-executives is a critical task for all NHS organisations.

    According to the NHS Leadership Academy, the board selection process provides a defining moment in the development of an organisation. It is the opportunity to ensure that the right people with the right competencies are at the helm, providing leadership and governance that will secure the future of the organisation, fulfil the objectives of the business, and deliver sustainable benefits. 

    Diverse leadership will also be more able to handle the collaborative governance arrangements that are being taken forward in sustainability transformation partnerships and integrated care systems.

    A diverse and inclusive leadership among those appointed to the board roles of NHS organisations will provide the tone of governance needed to:

    • address the issue of staff feeling bullied and harassed
    • develop the culture recommended by Sir Robert Francis and Professor Don Berwick 
    • motivate NHS staff to be caring and productive, and to provide more efficient and sensitive patient care.

    Balanced boards with leaders drawn from diverse backgrounds with diverse skills are more likely to champion patient and staff engagement, and transform the culture of the health service for the benefit of patients.

  • he Independent Taskforce on Increasing Non-Executive Director Diversity in the NHS will oversee the development of an equalities and diversity framework for the recruitment and retention of chairs and non-executives in the NHS in England. 

    The taskforce has been established following a 2019 NHS Confederation report, which pointed to a decline in the number of chairs and non-executives recruited across gender, race, disability and age since the early 2000s. Senior leaders from across the NHS will sit on the taskforce – find out more about taskforce members and co-chairs.

    The report attributes the decline in part to the loss of the Appointments Commission, the independent arm's-length body which oversaw the appointment of chairs and non-executive directors. And to the creation of foundation trusts, which handed autonomy to the these trusts to make chair and non-executive appointments without the oversight of an independent agency.

    The taskforce was one of five recommendations put forward to realise a step change in diversity within the non-executive community.