Clinical Leaders Network director Raj Kumar talks about the initiative's progress so far and the hurdles that lie ahead

I am delighted that the NHS Clinical Leaders Network is in its third year and is now being rolled out across England.

Since December 2008, in addition to the North West, the leadership network has gone live in the West Midlands, the North East and London and is due to be established in all 10 strategic health authorities by the end of spring 2009.

Most SHAs are implementing the network to focus on developing the clinical pathways set out in health minister Lord Darzi's next stage review, with clinicians working together in action learning groups according to their chosen pathway area.

Some areas have taken an even more focused approach. For example, NHS London is concentrating its entire programme on improving maternity services over the next 12 months to address issues raised in the recent Healthcare Commission report. All SHAs are using the CLN to achieve a key component of their long-term strategic vision of improving clinical leadership and engagement.

Pressing questions

2009 will be a significant year for developing meaningful and empowered clinical leadership across England. Nonetheless, we will also see a series of important questions facing the CLN:

  • How will we ensure members continue to get the support they need to develop leadership skills to drive reform?

  • How is the good practice and learning emerging from the CLN going to be shared?

  • And how will policy makers, both nationally and regionally, be influenced by this development?

Building skills

As the network continues to roll out, we are working closely with clinician leaders and SHA managers to develop solutions to all these problems. In partnership with these groups, we have developed the CLN competency framework, which provides members with an opportunity to evaluate their own capabilities and focus on how they influence change.

Covering skills such as conflict management, innovation and organisational savvy, the framework is also mapped to the NHS leadership qualities framework to ensure consistency.

Best practice

We are also considering how good practice is going to be shared across the network. Again in partnership with key CLN members, we have developed a knowledge sharing strategy that examines options such as setting up an interactive online portal, podcasting key information, sharing case studies and broadcasting regular interviews with senior policy and service leads. Sharing knowledge in this way is still relatively new to the NHS and I look forward to the exciting possibilities the CLN will bring.

Of course, we also need to evaluate the CLN to ensure the programme is delivering benefits for its members, NHS organisations and patients through improvements to clinical services. NHS North West associate medical director Steve Henderson is leading on the development of an evaluation strategy that sets out how we will measure personal and organisational progress through the CLN, as well as improvements across the network and the impact on the NHS. We expect to be able to provide further details shortly. Do check our website www.cln.nhs.uk for further details.

Case studies

Over the next few months, I shall ensure that this HSJ column features articles from CLN clinicians, project managers and others involved with its day to day work, highlighting successful examples of clinical leadership from across the country. We hope these practical case studies will be of use to readers.

In our next column, clinicians from NHS North West will be discussing the impact of the CLN in their area so far and some of the challenges they face. In the meantime, do contact us at cln@nhs.net with any suggestions or feedback for the column, or to request a copy of our knowledge sharing strategy.

About the Clinical Leaders Network

The NHS Clinical Leaders Network is the first national, multi-specialty professional network of senior clinicians in England.

It aims to support in-situ clinical leaders to improve service quality across the NHS through regular action learning.

Read more

Developing the Clinical Leaders Network