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Only one third of NHS trust chief executives have clinical background, report finds


By Valeria Fiore
12 October 2018

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Only one third of NHS trust chief executive have a clinical qualification, a report by NHS Providers and the NHS Leadership Academy has found.

This is a much smaller number than in other national healthcare systems, the report said.

The Clinician to Chief Executive: Supporting leaders of the future report suggested that attracting more clinical expertise into leadership roles would benefit the NHS as this group has a ‘deep understanding  of what matters most to patients, their loved ones and staff’.

In the foreword to the report, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson and Leadership Academy chair Peter Homa wrote: ‘Clinicians know first-hand that decisions driven by short-term financial or operational efficiency imperatives can undermine quality, damage staff morale and cost more in the longer term.’

The report also showed that of the 81 survey respondents, 79% of chief executives with a clinical background are no longer practising because of a lack of time, while 48% retain their registration to practice.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Nick Broughton said: ‘A lack of time is the greatest challenge. I was able to continue with clinical work on a limited basis for the first 18 months I was a chief executive.’

The report, which gathered the answers of 81 respondents – 98% of whom identified themselves as chief executives – said that there was a shared feeling pointing to the need to help more clinicians take on leadership roles in the NHS.

Respondents also suggested the NHS should do more to break down the barriers that prevent clinicians from stepping into senior roles and ‘consider the post-CEO pathway for clinicians who desire to return to practice after their tenure as a CEO’.

report published earlier this year by The King’s Fund and NHS Providers found that 37% of trusts have at least one empty executive director position, with the risk of being penalised for poor performance found to be one of the major causes behind the high vacancy level.

Commenting on the report, Mr Hopson said: ‘It is common knowledge that being a chief executive of an NHS trust is one of the most difficult and complex roles out there.

‘We desperately need to ensure that clinical talent within the service is nurtured right the way up to the chief executive role and that the clinical route to the chief executive role becomes part of a strong pipeline of future leaders.’

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