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Advisory boards  |  Crisis management  |  Governance

Is public health expertise needed in UK boardrooms?

Non executive director


In August 2020, the dean of Harvard’s school of public health, Michelle Williams called on companies to appoint public health professionals on their boards and C-Suite to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may hang over businesses for years. Does such a call apply to UK boardrooms, their structure and the responsibilities of UK non-executive directors?



NEDonBoard regularly publishes on the topic of board composition and succession planning is one of the modules of our board training. Why? Succession planning is a core responsibility of non-executive directors and a board with the right mix of skills, experiences and expertise is far more likely to lead an organisation to sustainable success.

Related posts: Board refreshment and succession planning; The use of skills matrix in board refreshment and succession planning


What expertise does your board need?

In the past 6 months, boards have had to address the immediate, medium-term and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Challenges, risks and opportunities have emerged and boards that have had the right combination of skills and expertise have been better positioned to respond.

So, do boards need to bring public health experts to the board table to prepare the next phase of the pandemic? Do the public health experts have to be appointed as non-executive directors? Would public health experts also be able to contribute to areas of board responsibilities such as strategy, finance, risk and audit, succession planning, remuneration, ESG, digital transformation, regulations, stakeholder engagement and the list goes on!


NEDonBoard cautions against the addition of highly specialist expertise at board level. We recommend that careful considerations be given to the ability of non-executive directors to discharge their duty as company director and to alternative ways to incorporate public health expertise into decision-making.


There is no doubt that input from public health experts is absolutely necessary. There is no doubt that some public health experts have the skills to discharge the duty of company directors. There is also no doubt that effective alternatives exist. NEDonBoard proposes the following avenues to boards:

  • Reflect on the first wave of COVID-19 and how you have had to adapt, what has worked and what has needed adjustment and pivoting. What skills, experiences and expertise have been missing or needed strengthening? Related post: Crisis Management & Lessons Learned
  • Re-assess the skills, experiences and expertise that are needed in light of your strategy. Does your organisation require public health expertise? The answer may be yes. Advertise your NED vacancy accordingly (note that some of NEDonBoard members are public health experts!).
  • Consider bringing expertise as and when needed, for example during a board off-site. Ask a public health professional to present to your boards and ask your questions so that you have the data and research you need to make effective and informed decisions.
  • Consider establishing an advisory board tasked with the response to the COVID-19 crisis and its associated risks, challenges and opportunities. Public health experts may well be appointed as advisory board members, which are not subject to the Company Act 2006.


Over to you! Have you appointed a public health expert on your boards in recent months? Do you intend on doing so and why? How have your boards received the expert information it needs to make decisions? We look forward to hearing your views. Email us at [email protected].


Written by Elise Perraud, NEDonBoard COO


Want to know more? NEDonBoard is a leading provider of educational content for non-executive directors and board members. Access our NED Library and Board Best Practices  pages or email us your professional development needs at [email protected] to find out about our training courses.


If you are a first-time NED, we invite you to visit our NED Accelerator Programme by NEDonBoard course page. The NED Accelerator Programme is a uniquely designed programme combining fundamental governance knowledge and experience-based advice to secure NED roles confidently and successfully. You may also want to attend our complimentary webinar “How to secure your first NED role”. Register your attendance now at this link.