The NHS is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit people to top-level jobs because of the perceived pressure of the roles, the NHS Confederation has warned.
A report by the confederation, the membership body for NHS organisations, said health service managers were often derided and criticised by the media and by politicians.
Department of Health statistics show that just 2.7% of the 1.3 million strong NHS workforce are managers, a considerably smaller proportion than the national average in both the public sector and among private firms. Across the UK as a whole, 15% of people are in managerial positions, the report said.
Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “As the fourth largest organisation in the world, with an annual budget of about £90bn, you would expect high-quality management to be valued.
“It is important that managers are supported in what is a very complex and challenging role – not unnecessarily condemned because they are an easy target.”
The NHS must take “collective action” to ensure managers are supported in their role, Edwards said.
“We must invest in senior leadership in the NHS so that we continue to attract the brightest and best management talent to the service,” he added.
NHS management has come in for heavy criticism in recent months. A damning report by MPs in March found managers gave little thought to long-term workforce planning. The report followed a wave of redundancies, recruitment freezes and training cuts. Last year, a separate parliamentary report blamed financial mismanagement at all levels in the NHS in England for a £547m deficit.
Nurses make up about a quarter of the workforce and doctors account for about 10% of all posts.
MPs unhappy over pay deal brokered by former NHS HR chief
Former NHS workforce director Andrew Foster came under fire from MPs earlier this month as part on an inquiry into pay modernisation.
Foster, now chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, was giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on the impact of the consultants contract, introduced in 2003.
A report last month by the National Audit Office found consultants in England earn, on average, 25% more than three years ago, but are working the same number of hours or less. The government also admitted it had underestimated the cost of the new contract by £150m.
Foster led the consultant contract negotiations and insisted that many of its objectives, including increased productivity, “are being achieved”. But Labour MP Derek Wyatt said if a FTSE 100 company said it was going to overspend by £150m, then a lot of people would be fired.
However, Foster insisted the government “learned a lot of lessons” that it was able to use when implementing the Agenda for Change pay system, itself costing an extra £220m more than planned.