Senior leadership teams in the NHS could save more than 2,000 hours a year by making meetings more efficient, attendees at the NHS Confederation annual conference have heard.

The finding comes from research carried out by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement as part of the productive leader programme.

The programme, which is to be launched nationally at the end of October, aims to help managers spend less time sending emails and holding meetings.

Speaking at the conference, institute director of service transformation Helen Bevan said: "It's about spending time on things that are really important.

"We found leaders were spending nearly 90 per cent of their time on three tasks: meetings, communication and people management.

"This left only four hours a week on their own tasks, little time for strategic thinking, direction setting or personal workload planning."

The programme encourages simple initiatives such as email protocols and audits of how managers are using their time.

It follows a year-long study in seven NHS trusts that showed senior managers were spending more than two-thirds of their time in meetings.

But only 27 per cent of meetings began on time and just 36 per cent of participants made a significant contribution.

There was a lack of focus on actions, roles, responsibilities and deadlines during meetings.

After taking part in the programme, one trust reduced the average length of executive team meetings by more than 30 minutes, saving 6.5 hours per week per leader.

Assuming a team of seven leaders, this could save 45.5 hours a week, or roughly 2,000 hours a year, Ms Bevan said.

The work follows on from the nationally adopted productive ward programme.

For more rolling news from the NHS Confederation conference, visit the news section