Foundation trust directors have defended their decisions to meet in private, despite growing pressure on them to be more open.
Following the Mid Staffordshire foundation trust scandal, the government has said all boards should meet publicly. Care Quality Commission chief executive Cynthia Bower appeared to support that view at the NHS Confederation conference last week.
However, several foundation trust directors and the Foundation Trust Network insisted their governance system allowed them to be more open than other trusts, for example by giving additional information and access to governors. Those with open meetings could avoid scrutiny by discussing sensitive topics in private sessions.
Chesterfield Royal Hospital foundation trust chair Richard Gregory, also chair of Yorkshire Bank and former managing director of Yorkshire Television, told a conference seminar that public meetings made it difficult to “discuss issues constructively”. They would also discourage private sector directors from joining foundations, he said.
“How many FTSE100 non-executive directors would want to have meetings in public or indulge in the hypocrisy of holding meetings in two parts?” said Mr Gregory.
Liverpool Women’s foundation trust chair Ken Morris said: “I do not think there is any
evidence that open meetings are effective in terms of promoting confidence and getting people interested. Arguably it is a soft position [compared with more information and involvement for governors].”
Monitor strategy director Adrian Masters said it was sometimes right to meet in private. He told a separate seminar at the conference: “I think if you hold board meetings in public, what you risk is that the really important conversations do not happen at the board… then you do not have a fully effective board because the really important questions are not being debated there in an open way.”
However, Ms Bower said the public was becoming less tolerant of information being kept private. “If you hold privileged information that you are not putting into the public domain then you are going to have to have a very good reason why you are doing that.”
An HSJ straw poll in April suggested less than a quarter of foundation boards met in public, contradicting government guidance.