Following a successful pilot in the North West, the Clinical Leaders Network is being rolled out to strategic health authorities throughout England. Ingrid Torjesen talks to the network's national lead Dr Raj Kumar

The Clinical Leaders Network was formed as a partnership between NHS North West, the Department of Health and Connecting for Health to develop and sustain a source of local clinical champions to act as agents of change. In the North West, more than 80 clinicians are involved. The network is now being rolled out across other strategic health authorities in two phases.

In the first phase, the network will expand from the North West into the North East, the West Midlands, London and the South East Coast, with the majority of these SHAs hoping to hold their first event by the end of December.

The second phase will involve Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, East of England, South Central and South West SHAs. It is hoped these will be up and running by April.

Recruitment drive

Each SHA has agreed to recruit 60 clinicians, and NHS West Midlands and North East have opted to recruit double that, so overall it is expected that there will be more than 600 clinicians participating by April.

Dr Kumar says: "Rolling out a project that is as mammoth as this - we are talking about 600 clinicians plus across the country in one single network linked directly to the Department of Health - that is quite a large task."

He adds that usually people talk about projects and then spend five years developing them. "We have been quite ambitious to roll the process out over a period of one year. I have no doubt that will happen as you can see we are already 50 per cent down the road.

"By April next year, we are looking to have the entire country having the CLN fully established and up and running."

DH funding for the network has already been sent to the 10 SHAs. There is a centralised team in place and a contract has been awarded to consultancy Arup to set up training for all 10 SHAs.

Leadership development

"Each SHA will have a senior manager from Arup, who will lead the action learning and the leadership development process," Dr Kumar says. "That has already been secured, tendered and signed off. They have already started working in the North West and they have started linking in with the West Midlands, North East and London in helping them prepare for the go live date.

"Separate to that, we are developing a handful of strategies for managing knowledge processes for all of the clinicians and the clinical leaders and their organisations, and a mentorship and clinical leadership development process that will be supported centrally."

Dr Kumar says leadership development overall has been variable across SHAs, partly as a result of reconfigurations. However, the Darzi process has now focused senior managers' minds on it.

"That has put a lot of pressure on the SHAs to come up with credible processes that will end up bringing out clinicians as leaders within these organisations," he says.

"We want to be the supporting body for all aspiring clinicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and genuine leaders out there. We want to tap into that resource and bring them out to the fore, support them and bring them a peer body to belong to. We want to ensure that these clinicians have direct access to the policy makers and that the policy makers have direct access to these clinicians and just ensure that they are involved in all mainstream processes at the centre and at the periphery."