Managers have a vital role to play in engaging medical staff with reform

Published: 25/07/2002, Volume II2, No. 5815 Page 17

The government is devoting significant energy to engaging doctors with NHS reform (news focus, pages 12-13). There is concern that medics have been left behind in the rush to modernise the NHS, and that the lack of ownership they feel over the changes - existing and proposed - threatens to undermine their effectiveness. The development of diagnostic and treatment centres, for example, will not happen without an acceptance by medical staff that their roles and responsibilities must change.

Managers, of course, have a vital role to play in engaging medical staff with reform.

Yes, medical directors are the most important actors in this, but most managers - from chief executives down - can play a significant part in creating an environment in which medical colleagues will be encouraged to innovate.

The government believes the new consultant contract could give managers a powerful tool to promote change (news focus, pages 12-13). As one senior Department of Health figure told HSJ this week: 'We have purchased them the right to manage.' But assuming the doctors vote for it, will managers be able to make the most of this opportunity?

There is significant doubt as to whether they have the experience to get the most out of the contract. It is, after all, a novel situation for managers to find themselves negotiating with consultants on equal terms. But grasp this opportunity they must.

Otherwise a year from now we could find consultants working in the same way as they have always done, but being paid significantly more. And where would the incentive for change come from then?