• Some trusts postponing or cancelling public board meetings
  • Others will be held without members of public present
  • Trusts looking at virtual meetings and limited reports

Trusts and clinical commissioning groups are abandoning scheduled board meetings or holding them in private during the covid-19 crisis.

A number of board and governing body meetings are usually held towards the end of March as the financial year-end approaches. However, some organisations are making changes to the way they are run partly to reduce the risks of infection and partly to make sure executives and others are free to plan for the coming peak of the epidemic.

In London, North Middlesex University Hospital Trust has cancelled its board meeting on 2 April. Chair Cedi Frederick said all trusts were facing “unprecedented pressures and demand” and he had made changed reporting from executives in a bid to reduce pressures on them.

Non-executives were getting regular briefings through conference calls, he added.

“It does not mean that there is no governance structure in place,” he said. “It is very much leaving it up to our executive directors rather than having people spending hours writing reports and meetings taking up a lot of time.”

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust is also postponing its next meeting, with a message on its website saying it is following guidance from Public Health England and “respecting social distancing to protect members of the public”.

PHE has not issued specific guidance on NHS board meetings but its general advice is to avoid large gatherings and “gatherings in smaller public spaces”.

The Northern Care Alliance Group’s website said its meeting on 30 March would not be held in public. Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust — whose board was due to meet next Thursday — said it had taken the decision not to hold future meetings in public, but this would be reviewed “in due course,” according to its website. A spokesman for University Hospitals Bristol FT also said its next meeting would not be in public.  

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust tweeted it was considering video conferencing its next board meeting while the CCGs in the county are holding governing body meetings by voice conference, according to their websites.

In Sussex, some CCGs have tweeted they are holding meetings in private rather than in public as a “precautionary measure”.

Using video or audio conferencing effectively means the meetings are no longer held in public as there may be no way the public can view or listen to the meeting.

Many trusts are also cancelling other meetings involving the public, such as information evenings, and are restricting visiting to inpatients.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We haven’t issued any specific advice regarding board meetings or CCG meetings during the covid-19 outbreak. However, we would advise that these are approached on an individual basis using the latest general guidance on social distancing.”

Trusts are also to be told they have longer to complete annual reports and accounts. Ian Ratcliffe, assistant director of sector financial accounting for NHS Improvement, tweeted there would be “extensions with flexibility” with details announced on Monday.