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Hunt: “We must broaden the pool of people taking on NHS management roles”

More doctors should become senior hospital managers, the Health Secretary has said in a speech.

Addressing the NHS Providers Conference, Jeremy Hunt said the introduction of a ‘general manager class’ – advocated in the Giffiths Report in the 1980s – may have been a historic mistake.

Hunt said: “What is striking when you look at the pool of potential NHS leaders of the future is just how few have a clinical background, with clinicians representing a third of chief executives. Only 54% of managers in our hospitals are clinicians, compared to 74% in Canada and the US, and 94% in Sweden.”

He said urgent action was needed to “broaden and deepen the pool of people willing and able to step into NHS management roles”.

He announced that Health Education England will examine whether doctors will be able to choose clinical leadership as a specialism with a dedicated programme.

Furthermore, NHS graduate scheme places will be doubled to 200 in 2018, rising to 1,000 by 2020.

Hunt said: “Given that one of the most important roles of a chief executive is to motivate a large number of able, smart but – let’s be honest – often quite headstrong clinicians, we should today ask whether the NHS made a historic mistake in the 1980s by deliberately creating a manager class who were not clinicians rather than making more effort to nurture and develop the management skills of those who are.

“I would like to see a greater proportion of clinician chief executives raised in the next decade, allowing space for an outstanding new generation of leaders from both clinical and non-clinical backgrounds and more properly exploiting the huge talents of our female and BME workforce at the same time.”

The Health Secretary also announced that a review of professional regulation by Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management – to encourage nurses and doctors to move into leadership roles – will be completed in 2017.

The NHS Leadership Academy will send 30 students a year to global universities to fast track their move into senior management.

And an “NHS MBA” for senior professionals will be launched next September.

Of the recent dispute with junior doctors, the Health Secretary suggested the NHS should return to the old “firm” structure of training.

He said: “When we implemented the European working time directive for junior doctors, although we rightly reduced the excessive hours they worked, in dismantling the ‘firm’ system completely we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

“I have asked HEE to work with the Royal College of Surgeons to pilot a new approach to explore whether a modern firm structure could enhance the effectiveness of medical teams, give better support to its members, make junior doctors feel more properly valued and get better outcomes for patients.”

During questioning, Hunt criticised the NHS for asking for more money. “If less than a year ago you’ve got the biggest settlement that any government department got, in a period when most government departments have seen their budget cut, and less than 12 months later you’re saying ‘there isn’t enough money, please sir can I have some more’, then you devalue the currency.

“What you do is you risk the NHS not being at the table in these discussions [with the Treasury] going forward because people will say, ‘whatever we do it’s not enough’.”

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