14 Jul 2020
Building a board career in health and care: Ian Peters’ OutsideIn story
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After a successful career in financial services and energy, Ian Peters joined Barts Health NHS Trust as Chair in 2017. At Centrica, he held a number of senior roles, including Managing Director. In addition to his role with Barts Health, he is the Vice Chair of the Peabody housing association, Chair of Employers for Carers, and he chairs a number of small innovative technology companies. He formerly served as a NED at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. He shares his story.
Valuable previous experience
Ian spent time on the board of a mental health trust before he became Chair of Barts Health and he felt that this was very helpful in the breadth of exposure that it gave him. “Certainly, it helps if candidates have been a non-executive director in the NHS before becoming a Chair.”
Ian was already an experienced NED before he joined the NHS and this was very helpful. He held non-executive roles in housing and the charity sectors and he saw the obvious links into the NHS.
Questions of accountability
Today, the role of Chair is a complex one as the NHS system continues to evolve and develop. Historically, this role has been about chairing an entity, but this has changed.
Now there is a balance between chairing an entity and providing a commitment to the wider development of the NHS system.
As a result, there are some questions to be answered regarding your true responsibilities. Is it purely the entity that you chair or are you also responsible for the performance of the wider system?
There are also questions over who it is you are accountable to, with a number of different lines of accountability in place.
“It is crucial to hire the right people to be Chairs in the current context. The changes in remuneration levels for Chairs do help to make a difference.”
In terms of non-executive directors, Ian feels that new non-executive directors can be supported to understand how they can make a difference. “They need to understand that they are not an executive, but they can work with the CEO who manages upwards to the board, and they can influence the strategy of the board.”
“I think non-executive directors’ inductions must include wider exposure to all parts of the system that are part of this strong integration agenda.”
Valuable functional expertise
For Ian, non-executive directors can bring strong functional expertise which is very valuable to the NHS, particularly in HR and IT. Different styles of leadership are helpful given the complexity of the challenge.
“This is where the NHS needs to pay more attention. These agendas of HR and IT need to be progressed more speedily. Non-executives can also bring their experience in managing risk which is another under-developed area.”
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“I believe it is also important that NEDs live or work ‘on the patch’, so to speak. This can help to ensure that the board is representative of its local population. It also supports the move of the NHS into local health systems.
“Fundamentally, successful NEDS in the NHS must be passionate about the service. They must truly believe in it and must want to fight for it. They must find their mission compelling.”
Inspiring and humbling
“Being the chair of Barts is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. I think about my own organisation and considering all that the workforce does, despite the very challenging context that they operate in, I find it uplifting, inspiring and humbling.”
Ian has put in a structure ensuring that board activities are organised well in advance. “This is all planned in so that expectations are clear. I suppose the challenge is to make the system less difficult and frustrating. I believe this is achievable.”