Head of Modernisation Agency plans to give leaders a chance to shine

So now at last we know where we stand. After weeks of rumour, speculation and anxiety, Downing Street has confirmed that the new head of the NHS Modernisation Agency is David Fillingham, chief executive at North Staffordshire Hospital trust.

It is a huge role - pulling together the various disparate elements including the Clinical Governance Support Team, National Patient Access Team, the new leadership centre, the cancer collaboratives and the Primary Care Development Team. Not least it means working closely with ministers and civil servants, ensuring a bridge between the policy-makers and those on the ground delivering the plethora of targets the Department of Health has set.

Mr Fillingham has a background in human resources and is a firm believer in allowing people at all levels and in all disciplines the freedom to do their jobs as best they can. He sees the agency as being enabling and supportive and not as a body which will employ heavy-handed tactics: certainly he recognises the daily difficulties and challenges faced by staff in providing the highest level of patient care while also meeting the demands of regional offices and coping with financial constraints.

The appointment comes at a time when the government has also acknowledged the huge difficulties the public sector faces in attracting and retaining leaders.

Undoubtedly pay may be a factor for some managers who choose the private sector over the NHS or local government, but there is certainly an issue about whether leaders in the public sector have sufficient freedom from political interference to lead in the way they would like.

Many would argue that it is about allowing people freedom to lead, having the courage to let go of the reins so that staff have the opportunity to be creative and do things differently. David Fillingham pledges that he will ensure this is the approach the agency will take - he must hope that this is the approach ministers will also take with him and his colleagues.