HSJ’s roundup of the most important stories and debate in health

Tough at the top

Are any NHS leaders “irreplaceable”?

That is what some commentators have been pondering after HSJ broke the news on Wednesday that University College London Hospitals FT has failed to appoint a successor to Sir Robert Naylor.

Sir Robert, who has led the prestigious teaching hospital since 2000, was due to step down in March, and intended to pursue “new career opportunities”. HSJ understands he will now stay until December.

We understand that two overseas candidates were interviewed by UCLH but neither was offered the job, and the chief executive of another London trust was sounded out.

Editor Alastair McLellan said UCLH’s predicament was a significant “canary in the coalmine” for an NHS leadership “crisis”.

Now that’s something Sir Robert knows a lot about, having chaired HSJ’s Future of NHS Leadership inquiry in 2015.

The report concluded that there should be fewer NHS organisations to avoid management talent being spread too thin, and that “NHS leadership is in many respects in crisis”.

Sir Robert warned: “If we’re serious about the NHS becoming more efficient and more productive then we need to make these top jobs more manageable, simpler, with greater autonomy to get on, and make the changes that are necessary.”

When he spoke to HSJ after announcing his departure last year, he reiterated that chief executive jobs were “far more difficult” today than when he started out. That now seems to apply to recruiting to the top jobs as well.

The NHS digital allstars

HSJ exclusively revealed this week details of the heavyweight advisory group assembled by Robert Wachter, the US digital expert commissioned by Jeremy Hunt to advise how the NHS can become a world leading digital health system.

David Brailer, who was the first US national coordinator for health; John Halamka, the well regarded chief information officer at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and the NHS’s very own Sir David Dalton are all on a team which comprises experts from across the globe with a wealth of technical, clinical and managerial expertise.

The team picked by Professor Wachter, who is based at the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is expected to be officially confirmed next week along with the publication of full terms of reference for the review.

Whether the review proves to be a seminal point in the NHS’s digital progression or political froth will, like any review of this type, depend on a a number variables - many of which are far from the author’s control.

But HSJ readers would at the very least be well advised to welcome a fresh perspective from a man whose book, The Digital Doctor, was praised among health policy and informatics experts on both sides of the Atlantic.