19 Sep 2013

Future leaders: will ‘high fliers’ rescue the NHS?

Health groups welcome plans to turn doctors and nurses into “high-flying” managers under a new government scheme but warn that hospital wards mustn’t be left short-staffed.

Health bosses unveiled a new programme on Thursday which aims to transform the top tier of health service managers and staff into star performers.

The aim is to recruit three-quarters of those taking part from the ranks of the NHS, with senior doctors, nurses, managers and high-fliers being encouraged to apply for the programme. The remaining quarter will be brought in from industry.

‘Ideally placed’

The move has been welcomed by health groups, who say doctors and nurses are “ideally placed to take on managerial positions.”

Dr Mark Porter, chair of British Medical Association (BMA) council, said: “Doctors have first-hand experience of what works best for patients and staff.

“Taking on a role with management responsibilities is a substantial extension of a doctor’s role.

“It is important that those wishing to move into management are properly supported with training and appropriate preparation so that they are ready to take on the demands of their new role.”

We would hope that by having strong leadership failing hospitals can solve staffing problems – RCN

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also said that it was “good news for patients when positive examples of leadership are shared across the NHS.”

RCN chief executive and general secretary, Dr Peter Carter, said: “There is no one solution to underperforming hospitals, however good leadership is an important factor.

“This should also include nursing leadership, which plays such a crucial role in delivering safe patient care.”

Mr Carter added: “It is also important that these posts should be back-filled to ensure that top-performing hospitals do not become victims of their own success.

However the RCN warns that hospitals “can only provide the right standards of care if they have the right number of nursing staff on every ward.”

“We would hope that by having strong leadership in place these failing hospitals can identify and solve staffing problems and improve patient safety.”

‘World-leading health service’

The announcement comes as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to explain plans to turn around 11 hospitals put in special measures in the wake of the scandal over standards at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and subsequent Keogh Review, which looked at 14 NHS trusts with high mortality rates.

Mr Hunt said: “If we want this country to be a world-leader, we need a world-leading health service led by the very brightest and best, so I am ambitious about seeking out fresh talent wherever we can find it.

“Mediocre management and lack of clinical leadership were key contributors to the tragedy at Mid Staffs. We are determined to learn that lesson, and train strong leaders to drive up standards across the NHS through this cutting-edge programme.”

A health source said: “This won’t be existing chief executives given remedial training and it won’t be recent graduates or youngsters showing promise.

“These are senior clinical people in the NHS and high-fliers who want to get to the top.”

The truth is we need more brilliant managers in the NHS – Jeremy Hunt

Mr Hunt said a new training structure was key to turning doctors into “fantastic” leaders. He told Daybreak: “The truth is we need more brilliant managers in the NHS.

“We already have brilliant managers but we don’t have enough.

“The best managers are often doctors… we want to encourage the doctors we have to become fantastic leaders.

“We need to create a structure where they can get the training and support they need.”

He added that new “Ofsted-style” inspections will help to promote transparency in the NHS.

NHS Leadership Programme

• The 10-month long programme, run by the NHS Leadership Academy, will start in spring 2014

• It is thought £10m a year will be spent on the programme, but there is no course head count yet

• Eight weeks of the course will be held at a leading business school with discussions ongoing with UK business schools and Harvard in the US, insiders said

• The programme includes a six-month posting to a top performing NHS trust with the recruits in a job and receiving a salary

• A one-month placement with a top firm is also included - and discussions are ongoing with firms such as BT, Microsoft and FirstGroup

• After completing the course participants must stay with the NHS for two years - or pay back fees if they leave early