Empowerment or Rhetoric?: Investigating the role of NHS Foundation Trust Governors in the governance of patient safety

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Involving patients and the public in patient safety is seen as central to health reform internationally. In England, NHS Foundation Trusts are seen as one way to achieve inclusive governance by involving local communities. We analysed these arrangements by studying lay governor involvement in the formal governance structures to improve patient safety.


Interviews with key informants, observations of meetings and documentary analysis were conducted at a case study site. A national survey was conducted with all acute Foundation Trusts (n = 90), with a response rate of 40% (n = 36). Follow up telephone interviews were conducted with seven of these.

The case-study revealed a complex governance context for patient safety involving board, safety and various sub-committees. Governors were mainly not involved in these formal mechanisms, with participation being seen to pose a conflict of interest with the governors’ role. Findings from the survey showed some involvement of governors in the governance of patient safety.


This study revealed a lack of inclusivity by Foundation Trusts of lay governors in patient safety governance. It suggests action is needed to empower governors to undertake their statutory duties more effectively and particularly through clarification of their role and the provision of targeted training and support to facilitate their involvement in the governance of patient safety.

Decision makingGovernancePatient safetyUser involvement
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Public Health Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


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