Practical steps to improve board diversity

NHS NExT Director scheme – supporting tomorrow’s Non-Executives

Many boards in the private, public and voluntary sectors realise that they need to improve the diversity of their board members, whether it be ethnic, gender, restricted ability, age or socio-economic background, but find it hard to know where to start.

An example of a practical solution to the problem of finding suitable board candidates from diverse backgrounds is the NHS NExT Director scheme – a programme that matches people who want to be NHS non-executives, but might not necessarily have the right experience, with trusts who are looking for a more diverse make-up of their boards, so that they can learn first-hand about the challenges and opportunities associated with being a non-executive director in the NHS.

The opportunity

There is emphatic evidence that diverse boards make the best decision (and conversely, many examples of corporate failures where the boards have been drawn from a narrow range of backgrounds and experiences) – to help the Chairs and directors of NHS trust boards build more diverse, better performing boards, the NHS have identified the need to take positive action to increase the diversity of the talent pool of people who want be NHS non-executives.

The NExT Director Scheme is a development programme created and designed to help find and support the next generation of talented people, from groups who are currently under-represented on NHS boards, to become non-executive directors.

It focuses particularly on supporting people from local BAME communities and disabled people with senior level experience into board level roles in the NHS. People with other protected characteristics are also considered for placements.

The NExT Director programme follows a number of successful pilot schemes such as the Diversity Advantage Programme which ran in the South West of England in 2016. Chartered Director, Julia Clarke, CEO of Bristol Community Health CIC and Non-Executive Director Poku Osei were joint winners of the NHS SW Leadership Academy’s Inclusive Leader Award, which demonstrated the success of the practical steps taken to train and place NEDs from BAME backgrounds onto NHS boards.

The NHS undertook a board diversity survey in 2017 and established a baseline set of figures for NHS provider board diversity which highlighted the work needed to achieve the ‘50:50 by 2020’ target for gender balanced boards, the significant gaps in BAME representation in comparison to local populations and workforce, and the lack of representation of those declaring a disability.


The 12-month programme gives successful candidates a unique insight into the role and responsibilities of being an NHS non-executive director by supporting senior people in bridging knowledge gaps, for example by helping them with:

  • Operating at board level
  • Transitioning from executive to non-executive roles
  • Board level exposure in an organisation of huge size and complexity
  • Understanding NHS structures and accountability, how the money flows, who the key partners are, where all the regulators fit and the board’s role in quality and safety

Individual NExT Directors are offered a placement with a provider trust in their area for up to 12 months, depending on each individual’s rate of progression. This will provide the opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges and opportunities associated with being a non-executive director in the NHS today.

Suggest a candidate

The NHS is now working to identify potentially suitable candidates for the scheme. Do you know someone who you think has what it takes to be a non-executive director in the NHS and has the motivation to commit to a placement as a NExT Director?

If you would like to suggest a candidate please email Keely Howard, Resourcing and Appointments Development Manager

Host a placement

NHS provider chairs are really supportive of the NExT Director Scheme, and many trusts have already signed up and are offering support to placements.

Could you and your trust take part in the scheme by hosting one or two NExT Director placements?

Participating trusts will be asked to offer a range of development support including:

  • Access to board and committee meetings and papers as appropriate, including an opportunity to review and analyse meetings to learn with board members
  • The assignment of an experienced non-executive director mentor for the period to help shape the individual’s personal programme and provide regular feedback and advice
  • Opportunities to shadow key senior staff and meet staff and patient groups
  • A comprehensive local induction programme based on your offer to new substantive non-executives and access to the same training and networking opportunities available to them
  • The opportunity to learn and contribute to the full range of your trust’s organisational challenges, leadership styles and governance structures

If you would like to host a placement please email Carolyn May, Head of Non-Executive Talent and Appointments Team or Ness Clarke, Senior Non-executive Development Manager

Current chair and non-executive vacancies

View all current vacancies

The NHS are always on the lookout for talented people for their chair and non-executive director (NED) roles. If you or someone you know has the skills and experience necessary to be an effective chair or non-executive director, please contact them at

For other NED vacancies, including NHS roles, sign up for free email notification at

Published by David Doughty

Serial entrepreneur, Software sales and marketing specialist, Chartered Director, Chief Executive, Chair, Non-executive roles in private and public sector, Business consultant and mentor.

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