The first royal medical college to appoint independent Chair

Founded in 1996, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health  (RCPCH) trains doctors who work with infants, children, young people and their families and provides wider educational opportunities to child health professionals globally. It is the ‘go to’ organisation for expert advice on child health, informing and driving national policy in all four countries of the UK.

About the Board

RCPCH’s board of trustees govern the College and the board includes the RCPCH President, Registrar and Honorary Treasurer. It also has committees and officers who set its strategic direction. 

The Council is the members’ representative body and includes the President, elected officers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and elected representatives for trainees, doctors, senior members and associate members. There is also an executive committee – the College’s main decision-making body and its members include the Chief Executive and Directors, as well as the President, four Vice Presidents, a Registrar and Treasurer.

The Challenges

Following a governance review, RCPCH decided to restructure its board and move from being a pure medical board and introduce new ‘lay’ trustees from non-medical backgrounds. 

This decision was a major change in direction for the Royal College. Appointing lay trustees. including a lay Chair, was something that no other Royal College had done before and the change would need agreement from the Privy Council and the amendment of the Royal Charter. 

One of the key factors driving this change was that 51 doctors sat on the board which made decision making lengthy.  Skill gaps had also been identified in areas including legal, finance and business development. RCPCH wanted to recruit its first independent Chair from a non-medical background to drive its future development and lead the organisation alongside the President and CEO.   

Judith Ellis RCPCH’s Chief Executive explained, “Following our governance review, we felt that appointing an experienced, independent Chair and lay trustees would enhance our governance, improve our decision-making and address some vital skills gaps. We hoped new board members would help us improve the services for members and support our development.”

The trustee recruitment process

Judith travelled the UK and canvased members about the kind of trustees they wanted and gained their support and agreement, a process which made the recruitment process highly collaborative.

Judith had been appointed as Chief Executive two and a half years ago through Russam GMS, a specialist executive recruitment company and so she decided to approach Russam’s sister company Trustees Unlimited, a trustee recruitment company jointly run by Russam GMS, NCVO and Bates Wells Braithwaite to help.

Judith Ellis said, “We needed to appoint people before our next Privacy Council meeting which was fast approaching. Some board members were anxious about the deadline, but the team at Trustees Unlimited understood our time constraints and calmly reassured us they could help.”

Appointing the first independent Chair

They didn’t disappoint. Through Trustees Unlimited, RCPCH appointed Dame Mary Marsh, a highly experienced chairperson and a former Chief Executive of the NSPCC.

Dame Mary Marsh was CEO at the NSPCC from 2000 to 2008 and during that time, grew the charity from a £50m to a £150m turnover. She was also instrumental in the restructure of the governance of the NSPCC and Royal Charter reform and the charity absorbing ChildLine, a service which supports thousands of children in the UK every year.

A new board of trustees

Trustees Unlimited also presented RCPCH with a selection of trustee candidates to interview and several were recruited.

Judith Ellis said, “Through Trustees Unlimited we not only recruited a fabulous new Chair but other trustees including a lawyer, a finance specialist, and someone from a large charity.  We did this with the full support of the Privy Council.”

“The calibre of candidates was amazing. The trustees were voted in by over 80% of the membership. Already, we have seen a notable improvement in our decision making and we now have the right people in place to meet our strategic goals and support our future development.”

RCPCH has reduced its board from 51 to 12 trustees. The board which is Chaired by Dame Mary Marsh has an equal mix of lay trustees and doctors. It also still has a Council of Paediatricians made up of doctors who set the strategy for the college.

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive, Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director, Russam GMS said, “RCPCH has pioneered change by being the first Royal College to appoint an independent and non-medical Chair and trustees. They are committed to good governance and put the children and young people at the heart of the organisation. Indeed, as part of the recruitment of the Chair, young people were involved in designing part of the process and interviewing candidates. The new trustees bring many professional skills that will further enhance the College’s governance and support its future development.”

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