National Voices announces Helen Buckingham as new Chair of Trustees

Thu, 17 December 2020

National Voices has appointed Helen Buckingham as its new Chair of Trustees

We are delighted to announce that Helen Buckingham has been appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees of National Voices and will begin her role at the start of January 2021.

Helen has been Director of Strategy and Operations at the Nuffield Trust since June 2018 having joined as a Senior Fellow in 2017.

A finance professional by background, her past roles in the NHS include Director of Strategy and Organisational Development in a mental health trust; PCT Chief Executive; Chief of Staff at Monitor; and Director of Corporate Affairs at NHS Improvement.  

We asked Helen a few questions about her career and her interest in the work of National Voices:

You’ve worked in health and care for a long time, what drew you to this sector?

I’m actually the fifth generation of my family to work in healthcare – my mother was a nurse, her father was a GP and his father and grandfather were pharmacists. Literally everyone needs the support of health and care services at some point in their lives, and there are few better sectors to work in if you want to have a positive impact on the world.

What are the most important changes you have seen in the way health and care is delivered in that time?

Healthcare is not all about blue lights and advanced technology, and although hospitals are really important, 90% of the work the NHS does is outside hospitals. There’s been a rhetoric about focusing on care in the community for a long time, but gradually I think we are actually starting to see that happen for real. We’re slowly moving away from a world in which ‘doctor knows best’ to one in which health and care professionals work in partnership with the people they support.

How do you think COVID-19 is changing the way we all work with people in health and care settings?

To be honest I think it’s too early to say. We’ve seen a massive shift in the use of technology over the last few months, but I think that will swing back to some extent and settle somewhere more advanced than where we were a year ago but perhaps not as extreme as it was over this summer. Most importantly I think we’ve seen that health and care professionals are people too, vulnerable and heroic in equal measure like the rest of us, and I think we can build on that to help develop the partnership approach I described above.  

Why did you apply to become Chair of National Voices?

National Voices is an amazing organisation. I suspect most people don’t realise how small the core team actually is – it does such a fabulous job in amplifying the voices of the people who use health and care services. I’ve spent a lot of my career building connections between the NHS and the voluntary sector – I can’t think of a better place to be to carry on that work.  

What are the big challenges going forward for National Voices and the health sector?

Doing more with less. Although the health sector was relatively protected from the last few years of austerity, it’s still true that increases in demand have been greater than funding uplifts. And the voluntary sector has been hit badly not only by austerity but by the impact of COVID-19. We all need to work really creatively to do as much as we can with the resources we have – but we probably also need to have a pretty honest conversation about the limits we have.

How can National Voices as a coalition better reflect the views and needs of its diverse member organisations going forward?

That’s a question I want to ask the members! The approach we need to adopt might be different for different types of member organisation, although I am sure there will be some features common to all.

The pace of change is accelerating – where do you hope National Voices will be most effective in the next few years?

The change I hope to see isn’t a quick one, but it is fundamental. It’s the mindset change I referred to earlier, seeing people who use services as partners in the way services are delivered. If we can crack that, then it doesn’t matter what particular area of policy or service delivery you’re talking about, we’re more likely to get a solution which really makes something better.

How do you switch off from the intense world of health and care policy?

As those who follow me on Twitter know, I love to cook… and I’ve also been studying wine – really studying, exams and all – over the last few years. I think sharing food and relaxing over a drink (which could be wine or a cup of coffee) is one of the best ways we can connect with other people. And it’s also a brilliant way to value yourself – even if you’re on your own, you deserve to eat well.