Sector regulator Monitor’s chief executive has said senior NHS leaders are not well supported. David Bennett said the problem was dissuading applications for critical posts.

He was speaking at a healthcare leaders’ roundtable about staff health and wellbeing on Tuesday. He said: “The leaders of these organisations are people too and these are very challenging jobs we are asking them to do. I don’t think we are providing them with enough support.

“They are getting anything but support, [and coming under] even more pressure.”

Those attending the event, organised by NHS Employers, signed a pledge to improve the health and wellbeing of staff.

Speaking to HSJ after the event Mr Bennett said: “I’m worried there aren’t enough high-quality leaders to lead the NHS through this period of change.”

He said he was concerned about training and preparation for senior leaders. He added: “There are some very talented people who aren’t actually stepping up to the most senior jobs.”

Mr Bennett said it was increasingly difficult to recruit chief executives and other senior leaders. He added: “There is a small pool and we need a bigger pool.”

Health minister Dan Poulter, who also spoke at the event, accepted that the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust’s failings - and the government’s response − could damage staff morale. He said leaders should consider its potential effect. The government’s response to the report was “necessary”, he said, but added: “There are going to be issues affecting staff morale that come out of that.”

NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson told the event the Francis report could be a “fantastic opportunity to leap forward” but there was also a risk it could “drive people into a victim mentality”, which would be damaging.

He said the financial and demand requirements on the NHS − meaning it needs to “live within broadly the same amount of money” and “generate efficiencies” − could also be damaging to staff outlook. Sir David said this could be addressed by transforming services instead of “just driving efficiency”.

He said the NHS should “change the system to liberate money to do the things we need to do”, and added: “A really important part of that is service change and not just driving efficiency. Many of our staff just see driving efficiency.”

He pledged his support for efforts, led by government health and work adviser Dame Carol Black, to improve health and wellbeing. He said NHS England was reviewing the impact of “incentives in the system” in relation to wellbeing, for example “the way we pay people or the way we train and manage the workforce”.

Meanwhile Care Quality Commission chief executive David Behan said improving staff wellbeing “does impact on the quality of care” and the regulator was deciding how it assessed “the question of whether staff are supported” as part of its inspection regime.

Attendees of the summit agreed a pledge to “foster a culture” to promote better health and wellbeing, improve engagement and monitor staff health.

Professor Dame Carol Black - expert adviser to DH on  health and well being - noting the point raised by David Bennett at a health leaders summit  added  “it is because of the challenges managers face that developing  effective strategies for  resilience building  and enhancing the  health and well being of staff are crucially important. are all the more important”. Dame Carol highlighted the work of NHS Employers and the Health at Work Development Unit of the Royal College of Physicians in providing resources to support managers in implementing such strategies.