There’s already a staff college for NHS leaders.

It’s a charity.

As I mentioned yesterday..

In 2013 there were strong arguments for creating a staff college for NHS managers.

Three years earlier one had already been created through the innovation and drive of one the best people ever to have worked in the NHS – Aidan Halligan – a former Deputy Chief Medical Officer who very sadly died in 2015. Many of us still miss him a lot.

Full disclosure – he was also a great friend. I was working as the Secretary of State’s special adviser at the Department of Health at the time. We met and started working together on a range of change programmes. He was inventive, strong and very courageous, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him.

Today (October 11) is the annual Aidan Halligan memorial lecture and this blog is my little tribute to his contribution to leadership in the NHS.

He read voraciously and was always interested in leadership. But unlike most in the NHS he wanted to learn from leaders outside of the health service. He knew a great deal about different periods of military leadership. But rather than just writing about it, Aidan was always ready for action.

At some point, either in late 2003 or early 2004, he brought leading people in the Department of Health and NHS together with leaders from the army and the Ministry of Defence. The ministries were near neighbours but many miles apart in their areas of concern. I still remember the experience.

Both ‘sides’ couldn’t really understand what the other was doing. The army couldn’t believe that the NHS allowed people to lead major trusts without the appropriate range of leadership experiences. The army might say, “So let me get this straight. You don’t think it’s necessary for someone who leads a complex modern organisation to have at least (for example) 6 months experience of implementing and running an IT system in a similar complex system?” And from the NHS, “So when you suggest that all future leaders who will one day run an institution, will have to spend 6 months running an IT system, they do it?”

Neither group understood how their different systems created leaders.

The army had a spreadsheet of the few thousand officers who would progress through a complex series of very different experiences before they became the equivalent of CEOs and each of those experiences were suggested by those in charge of the development and needs of the service. This wasn’t “going on courses” – although there were a lot of courses. This was the real experience of leading very different core parts of the institution. Of course, soldiers did not have to do this. They could, for example, remain on the front line with operational responsibilities if that was where they felt most capable. But that lack of experience in other areas would mean they would find it hard to reach a certain level.

Individuals weren’t disbarred but they would be up against people with a wider range of experience. The suggestions from those in charge of the staff college were based upon the wide range of experiences that they felt were needed to be a senior leader.

In the NHS a good graduate trainee programme provides a wide range of early experiences but after that it’s up to the application process. To many of us this looks inadequate.

It looked inadequate to Aidan as well. Only he did something about it. Giving up on the capacity of the NHS leadership to set up a staff college he helped to set one up himself. He had been working with University College London Hospital to develop a patient pathway for homeless people, so decided that their trust’s education section would become the home of the staff college. It set itself up as a charity that needs to earn money from the courses that it runs. Its faculty is drawn from the leadership of the armed forces as well as the NHS. There is positive feedback from the NHS staff that take the courses.

However, as a charity the current setup cannot perform the full role that the NHS needs from having its own staff college. It does not have the relationships to set up a database of the top 3000 NHS managers and suggest to them which experiences would give them a better chance of becoming a good CEO. It could do that, but NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care would have to recognise that the staff college was doing it.

Every year the staff college has an Aidan Halligan memorial lecture. Today this lecture comes full circle. It’s by General Messenger who last year wrote an excellent report on how to improve NHS management. That was published 10 years on from the even more extensive Francis report I mentioned yesterday. Yesterday I made the case for training NHS managers before regulating them. I suggested we need an staff college to do this.

Let’s not wait another 10 years for this vital area of public concern to be addressed and for us to move forward.