'If ever there was a moment for leadership in the public sector, this is it.' This statement, which sounds like a politician's soundbite, was in fact from Mark Goldman, chief executive of Heart of England foundation trust.

His rousing call for "all leaders in the NHS, from all backgrounds, to stand together and support this nation's health", while not the normal stuff of Department of Health press releases, chimes nicely with the publication of the NHS constitution yesterday.

But in fact he was talking about his hopes for the NHS leadership council, which was also launched this week, alongside guidance for NHS organisations on how to foster talent and develop leadership. The council is, he says, perfectly positioned to make a difference.

And make a difference it must, if the NHS is to shift from a situation where chief executive positions frequently attract only one credible candidate, to one where organisations are, as the guidance puts it, "spoilt for choice" within five years.

The signs are positive. The DH recognises that for its leadership drive to succeed it must engender a cultural shift and that the best way to make this happen is to link it with the push for greater quality - and accountability - of services.

Improving leadership

Director general of workforce Clare Chapman's assessment that NHS senior leaders should be spending at least 20 per cent of their time improving leadership capacity and capability is not an edict, more an indication of just how important it is.

Cambridge University's Judge Business School, which was commissioned by the DH to make recommendations on the design of the leadership council, stressed that it "must show it means business in clear, unambiguous and jargon-free ways".

Co-opting Mr Goldman as an inspirational spokesman is a step in the right direction. He's not on the council, but his call to arms will no doubt resonate - particularly with the young graduates making up the 83 per cent increase in applications to the NHS management training scheme. If the quality of these applicants is high, there is surely an argument for expanding the numbers so they are among those spoiling NHS organisations for choice in years to come.

In the meantime, the council must heed the recommendation to appoint people with a track record of "transformational leadership", from both within and outside the NHS. Not so much "look out, not up", but "look out, not in".