this week

Recruitment is under way for a 'holistic' scheme to 'revitalise' the leadership skills of NHS chief executives who have been in post for seven years or more.

The first cohort of 16 chief executives will begin the NHS leadership programme - already being dubbed '7-up' - in November.

A 'three-pronged approach' will offer participants 'upfront diagnosis' of their performance within their organisation, followed by a residential programme focusing on leadership skills.

Programme director Tessa Brooks said it would also give chief executives the chance to 'get out of their boxes' by giving 'an alternative experience' which might include 'an arts-type approach' or work with theatre groups.

'It is not just about the business of doing the job but it is also about taking some time out to reflect on themselves. It is about being a bit more holistic - taking a more rounded approach,' she said.

A lead provider to run the programme will be selected in mid September from a current shortlist of 11.

More than 200 early expressions of interest were made by business schools, academic health study units, consultancies and consortia when the project went out to tender this summer.

Two cohorts of 16 chief executives will be trained during the scheme's pilot year.

Their guinea pig status - or opportunity to 'refine' the programme - will be rewarded with split-subsidy funding of the£5,000 course fees by the NHS Executive.

Ms Brooks said there were currently between 60 and 80 chief executives who would be eligible to join the scheme.

Work has been going on for about nine months, with input from a number of chief executives and regional office leads.

Hillingdon Hospital trust chief executive Philip Brown, who has worked on the development of the scheme and hopes to be one of its first recruits, said it was important that it was 'tailored to meet the individual needs' of participants.

Work on a 'parallel' programme to develop a 'superleague' of chief executives to fill the 40 'most difficult jobs in the NHS' remains at an early stage.

The project, headed by NHS associate director of development Dr Kate Barnard, will aim to 'identify and develop a pool of people' to take on 'the top 40 jobs in the country'.

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