A governor’s farewell

by Chris Birch (Patient Governor)—After eight years as a governor, I have generously been allowed 500 words to say goodbye to the hospital I love. I was here, accompanying a patient from London Lighthouse, in May 1993 when Her Majesty The Queen opened the hospital, and I’ve got to know it well.

Chris-Birch.jpgChris Birch, Patient Governor

E: chris.birch@chelwest.nhs.uk

After eight years as a governor, I have generously been allowed 500 words to say goodbye to the hospital I love.

I was here, accompanying a patient from London Lighthouse, in May 1993 when Her Majesty The Queen opened the hospital, and I’ve got to know it well.

I have had day surgery here twice, been an inpatient three times, an A&E patient four times, an outpatient of nine departments and regular visitor to an outpatient clinic every three months.

Before I was elected a governor, I worked for eight years as a volunteer in the Kobler Clinic and on the Thomas Macaulay ward. When I was elected in 2007, most of the Board of Directors probably regarded the governors as a necessary nuisance. We were not trusted, and some managers may have sought to control us. Things have changed.

We have got to know the Executive Directors well and are getting to know the Non-Executive Directors, and the Council of Governors is now recognised as an integral part of the Trust.

Even before a close friend aged 26 was killed by HIV in 1987, just 12 days after his Aids diagnosis, I have had an interest in HIV disease. I had a very small part in planning our outstanding sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street, and it has been great to work with and get to know a giant of the HIV world, Professor Brian Gazzard, and some of his colleagues.

It is glaringly obvious that this is an excellent hospital. The Care Quality Commission reported last October that we were Outstanding or Good in 26 areas and required improvement in 16. To then give an overall verdict of ‘requires improvement’ seems to me perverse. Of course we are not perfect, but as a governor it has been obvious to me that we are constantly striving for improvement.

The identification in 2012 of our Values of Safe, Excellent, Kind and Respectful was a useful step in the struggle to improve, although I would have preferred ‘compassionate’ to ‘kind’. I am kind to animals and compassionate about people. But what’s one word among friends?

The one thing that worries me as I say goodbye to the hospital is our failure, not for want of trying, to engage effectively with more than a small minority of the members of our Foundation Trust.

We put on wonderful Open Days, Christmas events, Medicine for Members, Meet a Governor sessions and constituency meetings—these are all successful to varying degrees and well worth doing, but they invariably only involve a minority.

Which brings me to unfinished business. The number of members who elect our governors is small. We have more than 3,000 staff members yet, as a patient using the hospital’s services, I sometimes ask them how they feel about their workplace. Those I ask are happy to work here, but none of them know that there is a Council of Governors and that they can elect a colleague to represent them on it. That is a nut that I now leave others to crack.

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