It is all systems go with the Leadership Centre for Health again, which aims to nurture a new generation of excellence. Lynn Eaton meets the woman setting it up and her deputy

The NHS Confederation mooted the idea of a 'leadership academy' for the NHS early last year. The idea duly featured in the NHS plan, with a new name, the Leadership Centre For Health.

Then everything went quiet.

Now, suddenly, it is all systems go again in a frantic bid to get the centre up and running by 1 April.

Tessa Brooks, former director of the leadership programme, is directing the leadership centre initiative.

According to the NHS plan, it is supposed to 'develop a new generation of managerial and clinical leaders, including modern matrons with the authority to get the basics right on the ward'.

Clearly, it is not going to pull this off instantly, but Ms Brooks is determined to give it her best shot.

The initiative is all a bit 'seat-of-the-pants' stuff at the moment. As she spoke to HSJ in mid-January, Ms Brooks admitted it was 'all in her head' but said it would have to come out on paper soon. She confidently predicted things would move at an enormous pace. But her time with the project is limited. She is project leader only until someone is appointed to head the centre.

Ms Brooks' deputy at the existing leadership programme is associate director David Arnold. He fills in some of the background. (Ms Brooks is, understandably, in a whirlwind of meetings and only has moments to spare).

'In order to have modern services, you need good leadership, ' Mr Arnold says.

'The new leadership centre will be responsible for a much wider group of staff than just chief executives, whom the leadership programme was set up for three years ago. '

Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, who publicised the idea of a leadership academy in the run-up to publication of the NHS plan, talks about the '40,000 leaders at local level' needed to implement it.

The plan identifies people who run service departments, clinical services and community-based networks as the centre's target group.

They will 'want to stay in the front line' influencing care on the ground, as well as 'seek to progress into executive roles'.

Chairs, non-executives and social care workers could also come within its remit.

The existing leadership programme will become part of the centre, which Mr Arnold says will continue to run 'some established training programmes more or less as they are' while reviewing others to fit the new agenda.

Multidisciplinary training is seen as a key issue. But the leadership centre will not be a direct provider of training.

'It will be providing the quality standards, the framework in which training and development need to be provided, ' Mr Arnold says. 'It is trying to get some coherence and co-ordination. '

There are still unanswered questions. 'We are still working on the core programme, ' Mr Arnold admits. 'We will especially need to identify priority areas. '

Ms Brooks has her own ideas about who should be priority groups: staff working at director level. 'There is a new HR directors' programme, which we can learn from. But we know we move people into medical director jobs without any prior development.

'You can't wave a magic wand and expect them to do something very different from their professional experience.

Why should they be able to read a balance sheet?'

While there are some training programmes already geared towards a particular staff group moving up to director level, such as that run by the British Association of Medical Managers, Ms Brooks is keen to see more multidisciplinary training.

How that will pan out is not clear. 'I have it in my head. But people in a new role need specific things, like interpersonal or presentation skills, that might well be taught on a multidisciplinary basis. '

The starting point may be unidisciplinary training programmes, with built-in multidisciplinary strands.

'If we want clinicians to change the ways they provide services, the way we do that is to get them to work with other people in different ways so they understand where people are coming from, ' Ms Brooks says.

Meanwhile, she is keen to emphasise the importance of the leadership centre being part of the Modernisation Agency, and getting 'synergy between modernising the delivery of service and creating the people who are going to do that.

'It is about us ensuring that people are skilled to deliver these modernised services. It is about ensuring that we invest in people, that we are not simply exploiting them - that there is proper career management and that they are supported. '

Achieving the shift in culture is not going to happen overnight. 'It is a pretty longterm agenda, ' she admits. Her short-term priority is meeting the government's target of having a work programme together for the leadership centre before she bows out.