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Writer of leaders for The Information Daily, Healthcare Innovation Monitor and Public Service Digital.

@theleaderspeaks

Health Service Journal, King's Fund and Birmingham MP worry about "leadership in NHS"

The Health Service Journal, a healthcare magazine, has reported that nearly fifteen percent of NHS trust, chief executive posts, are either vacant or will shortly become so. Digging deeper into the figures only increases the gloom. The average tenure in these and other top management posts is three years or less.

Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, an independent healthcare charity, called these figures a “wake-up call”. At the same time, according to the HSJ, Ham called on the NHS to ensure that there is an adequate supply of leaders to fill vacancies in future. It would seem that Mr Ham thinks the NHS management is asleep at its post. There is still time but so far there have been few if any voices raised against Mr Ham and his opinions.

A couple of weeks ago, well in advance of the HSJ report, your correspondent was privileged to sit-in on the recording of an InformationDaily.TV interview with Ms Gisela Stuart MP, Labour MP for the Birmingham constituency of Edgbaston and formerly a junior minister at the Department of Health. The interview focussed on “changes in styles of leadership”. Inevitably the conversation moved on to leadership in the NHS.

Asked where she thought the next generation of NHS leaders were coming from and if she was confident that they would be up to the job, Ms Stuart said that her main concern was not the quality of those who were stepping up to meet the leadership challenge but the quality of those who were simply not bothering to come forward.

If your correspondent understood her correctly Ms Stuart’s concern is that many of the best had been put off the idea of top management by the NHS culture of carping and careless criticism. A generation unwilling to lead an organisation dedicated to the sport of undermining and tearing down its leaders. A lost generation, understandably unenthusiastic about a career doing little but deal with a morale sapping burden of regulation, inspection and monitoring.

The problem it seems is not that the NHS is asleep or failing for other reasons to sustain an adequate pipeline of new leaders. The problem is that a significant part of the cohort that might supply the leadership the NHS so desperately needs wouldn’t dream of putting up with the conditions of service. And who can blame them?

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