Plans to regulate NHS managers are gathering pace. This creates both risks and opportunities.

Regulation is being pursued because public confidence has plummeted in the wake of scandals such as those at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Mid Staffordshire.

Patients need a system of regulation and development which raises both the esteem and performance of managers

As Labour searches for supportive pre-election headlines it has had no qualms about joining in the national media’s repeated attacks on public sector managers. Promising a regulator which routinely suspends NHS leaders from the gibbet of public opinion would play well with voters.

But there is an opportunity to bring together the need for greater public and clinician confidence in managers with the urgent requirement for top flight leadership to get the health service through the financial famine. Patients need a system of regulation and development which raises both the esteem and performance of managers.

Different professional regulators attract widely varying public reactions. Medicine and law carry great prestige; those that fall foul of its regulators are seen as being cast out from the elite, condemned not only for their individual failings but for tarnishing the reputation of their revered peers.

For some other regulators - which sadly includes the General Social Care Council - the mood music is the opposite; they exist, in the eyes of the tabloids, to weed out the inevitable incompetents among a workforce which many saloon bar experts neither respect nor trust. A problem to be contained, not an elite to be purified.

A regulator for NHS managers could all too easily fall into the second group. Bringing it in on a wave of digs from politicians about bureaucrats, perpetuating the myth that clinicians would spontaneously deliver first class healthcare if only managers would leave them alone, would make this a certainty.

Staff representatives discussing regulation with the next ministerial team should drive a hard bargain to deliver a package of reforms that raise management standards, secure an end to denigrating statements from politicians that undermine public confidence, and ensure that those managers who are not the right calibre take their talents elsewhere.

Regulation must boost NHS managers’ reputation, not voters’ blood lust