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Objectives: National Health Service (NHS) foundation trusts have been created to decentralize the management of NHS provider organizations through the substitution of central government control with local accountability to citizens and employed staff. Our aim was to explore the roles adopted by elected and appointed governors of a first wave NHS foundation trust and the extent to which governors shared power with trust directors and influenced the management of the trust. Methods: A one-year case study of a single NHS foundation trust (Homerton Hospital in East London) was conducted. Data were collected using face-to-face interviews with a sample of governors and directors, as well as through non-participant observation of public and private meetings of governors and documentary analysis. Results: Governors and directors found the new role of foundation trust governor ambiguous and difficult to define. This lack of clarity impeded the development of the new governance function. Governors perceived that they had made little impact on the decisions of the Trust during the year of study. However, evidence was found of an increased involvement of governors and the public in the activities of the Trust. Conclusions: Government plans to decentralize accountability of public hospitals to local communities appear problematic, at least in the short term. Unless the effectiveness of the new local governance arrangements is addressed, an accountability 'gap' may emerge as prior mechanisms for public accountability to the centre are dismantled. In diese circumstances, decentralization may lead in practice to a loss of public accountability. © The Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd 2008.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Health Services Research and Policy

Publication Date





19 - 25