NHS leadership development is the key to improved patient service

Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review established a shared vision of an NHS that has quality of care at its heart – quality that spans safety, effectiveness and the patient experience. This has given us a common language focused on improvement for the benefit of patients and service users.

Providing high quality care motivates all NHS staff, clinical and non-clinical alike. It requires professionals to be empowered to make the daily decisions that improve quality, combined with a stronger accountability to patients.

However making change actually happen takes leadership and that is why fostering and developing leadership today that recognises the importance of high quality care is central to our expectations for the future NHS.

Routes into leadership

Darzi’s report recognised that there are many routes to excellent leadership. It identified core elements essential for those leading change to improve quality.

Good leaders already exist in many parts of the NHS, but making this the standard will require a significant shift in both our thinking and our actions. We must systematically identify the talent we need to improve the overall quality and quantity of our leaders.

The NHS will only be able to achieve this by first creating the right conditions for it to happen. We must match our new expectations by making more career development and support available to help leaders advance their skills, experience and careers.

We also recognise that it is essential that our leadership profile is broadened to reflect the diversity of both the wider workforce and the communities we serve.

Last week the Department of Health announced its talent and leadership framework which states that leadership development must start with every individual in healthcare. We all have a personal responsibility to continuously learn, seek development, spot talent and support the development of others.

Structured development

Organisations play a crucial role at a local level in developing the leaders that we need to commission high quality services. Strategic Health Authorities play a key role at regional level they foster investment and collaboration to support leadership development.

Finally, our role at national level is to set the right incentives and standards, and advocate improvement with a strong national voice for change. The National Leadership Council is being created to champion the new priority being attached to leadership in the NHS. Through the council we will continue to work with a wide range of stakeholders to build advocacy for improvement.

The NHS Leadership Awards Scheme has also been launched, designed to spread best practice and foster and recognise the best leaders for today and tomorrow.

This approach to leadership reflects the shared purpose of the new NHS Constitution. Developed through joint-working with patients, public and staff, the constitution reminds us of the core values of the NHS: respect and dignity, commitment to quality of care, compassion, improving lives, working together for patients, and everyone counts.

To ensure that it remains true to the constitution and to the vision established in the Darzi review, the NHS will require exceptional leadership to bring about the significant improvements we are seeking to achieve for patients. All NHS staff have a role to play in realising these ambitions for improving leadership across the service.

Clare Chapman is director-general of workforce at the Department of Health

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