I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting of strategic health authority leads of the Clinical Leaders Network. There were about 30 of us in the room, in three groups.

We were asked to consider what the most important leadership qualities were.

So what did we want in a future clinical leader? A customer focus came top for all the groups. Our customers are our patients, their families and carers. We must ensure future leaders retain that focus. Beyond that, different groups had different views. Many thought clinical leaders should have the skills to improve services, champion change and respect diversity.

The latter means not just considering the opinions of different ethnic groups but also respecting differing opinions in the NHS family, for example between primary care and mental health, and supporting people whose views differ from our own.

Growing movement

The Clinical Leaders Network will grow this year as all regions will be running a programme. I would encourage all clinicians, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and others working in the NHS to consider joining. The programme will be looking for future clinical leaders, particularly those who already have influence in their peer group in clinical service teams. This is one programme that does not necessarily want medical managers.

There will be the chance for a group of either 60 or 120 clinicians across a region to meet regularly, network and learn together. They will hear from nationally renowned experts, helping them develop the skills they need to influence the delivery of quality services. The time they need will be protected and the programme will provide opportunities to apply the skills they have learned.

Business-like attitude

For the cynical, I was part of a programme like this some years ago. It was organised by the national clinical governance team. There was a group of 30 of us, which rapidly fell to about 18 as some clinicians did not perceive they got any value from the training. Those who stayed learned a more business-like attitude to managing services. We learned about the challenges facing the NHS and how we could use our influence to improve the quality of patient care.

All SHAs are forming quality observatories. The success of these observatories will, in part, be measured by the clinical leaders who use the data they generate. This data will be reflected back to the NHS, and it is only with more high-calibre clinical leadership that we will be able to use such data to improve patient care.

Clinicians need to be developing their skills now. The Clinical Leaders Network is an opportunity not to be missed.