Objectives: To determine the nature and extent of governance activities by health service boards in relation to quality and safety of care and to gauge the expertise and perspectives of board members in this area.
Methods: This study used an online and postal survey of the Board Chair, Quality Committee Chair and two randomly selected members from the boards of all 85 health services in Victoria. Seventy percent (233/332) of members surveyed responded and 96% (82/85) of boards had at least one member respond.
Results: Most boards had quality performance as a standing item on meeting agendas (79%) and reviewed data on medication errors and hospital-acquired infections at least quarterly (77%). Fewer boards benchmarked their service's quality performance against external comparators (50%) or offered board members formal training on quality (53%). Eighty-two percent of board members identified quality as a top priority for board oversight, yet members generally considered their boards to be a relatively minor force in shaping the quality of care. There was a positive correlation between the size of health services (total budget, inpatient separations) and their board's level of engagement in quality-related activities. Ninety percent of board members indicated that additional training in quality and safety would be 'moderately useful' or 'very useful'. Almost every respondent believed the overall quality of care their service delivered was as good as, or better than, the typical Victorian health service.
Conclusions: Collectively, health service boards are engaged in an impressive range of clinical governance activities. However, the extent of engagement is uneven across boards, certain knowledge deficits are evident and there was wide agreement among board members that further training in quality-related issues would be useful.