A leadership development programme helped Bradford and Airedale PCT reach level three for clinical leadership in the world class commissioning competencies, as Jan Lee explains

Two and a half years ago, four primary care trusts merged to form Bradford and Airedale PCT. As a Bradford GP for 25 years and someone involved in health management for much of that time, I recognised the need for change.

By working across a whole health economy, co-terminus with the local authority, we could be more efficient and truly address the pronounced health inequalities in the region.

A paper on obesity came before us and we recognised that it wouldn’t necessarily deliver the long-term health benefits that we wanted

But bringing four PCTs together was never going to be easy. Four different cultures, four different leaderships, four different ways of doing things – to bring the best out of all of them we had to create something new.

To support that process, Bradford University School of Management was asked to design a leadership development programme specifically for the trust. So far, more than 100 senior managers and clinicians have taken part – and I was among the first.

The commitment was daunting: five two-day modules in six months left many of us wondering how we could fit it all in. But it proved to be time well spent. We wanted to create a culture where clinicians and managers pooled their skills to ensure the best outcomes for patients. So a development programme where you work together and learn from each other made sense.

Relationship building

On the course we were able to see things from another’s viewpoint – clinicians discovered how managers looked at issues and vice versa. Working relationships forged during the programme continue to flourish back in the trust, benefiting important health projects.

Our mission is to transform healthcare in Bradford and Airedale. To succeed, we must think strategically and, yes, commercially. Here the development programme came into its own.

Traditionally, NHS development courses haven’t had much commercial focus, so the School of Management’s business-like approach – with modules on commercial decision making and marketing – was refreshing.

All the clinicians on my course, and a great number of the managers, said it gave them a fresh perspective on health economics. We’ve brought that understanding to bear on our commissioning processes. After undertaking the course, I noticed that clinicians were able to challenge plans more effectively. I chair the clinical executive, which exists to drive forward and deliver our commissioning strategy and plans. A paper on obesity came before us and we recognised that it wouldn’t necessarily deliver the long-term health benefits that we wanted for the investment we planned to make. As a result of our discussions, it is being redrafted to better suit the needs of the population and offer greater value for money.

This improvement has been independently acknowledged. Earlier this year, we were assessed at level three for clinical leadership in the world class commissioning competencies. Only a handful of PCT have achieved this nationally.

This course has helped foster the sort of collaborative culture which will be crucial if we are to tackle health inequalities in and around Bradford and Airedale, deliver better health and services for our patients and make the most of our resources.