First the bad news. According to the chancellor of the exchequer, this country is experiencing the harshest economic conditions in 60 years. On a more upbeat note, GCSE and A-level results are at an all-time high and more young people than ever are going into higher education.

Yet despite the supply of graduates outstripping demand, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to secure their share of the most able graduates - those capable of reaching the most senior positions in their organisations.

The issue is complex and challenging. In common with many employers, we seek to attract the most able graduates into the NHS and competition is therefore fierce. We are all chasing a relatively scarce resource - the "war for talent" has already begun.

But the problem is not confined to the graduate market, or to hiring from outside. NHS employers are finding it increasingly difficult to compile shortlists of suitable candidates for middle and senior management positions from within the NHS, and in some cases they are having to re-advertise or not appoint.

The right stuff

You can speculate on the reasons why this is so, but I don't believe for one minute that it is because we have a shortage of talent in the NHS. In a system employing more than 1.3 million people, we have a wealth of skills and experience to draw from.

I suspect it is more a case of intelligence gathering, of being able to identify and develop the talent that already exists in the NHS in a more systematic way, so as to ensure we have the right people in the right roles at the right time.

This will require accurate, transparent and timely data on the talent we have, to aid recruitment decisions and to inform career and development conversations. But data alone is not sufficient. It must be supported by the right behaviours and processes.

The talent agenda

In my view, "talent" should be a standing item on the agenda for all senior leadership teams and boards - it's that important. Line managers need to ensure they devote quality time to the talent agenda and have open and honest conversations with people about performance and career development. They need to lead and own the talent agenda, supported by human resources colleagues.

It may be a bit of a cliche, but people are literally an organisation's greatest asset, and in our case are absolutely vital to delivering outstanding patient care.

Fortunately, we are not starting with a blank sheet of paper. Building leadership capacity and capability has already been identified as a key part of delivering our clinical visions, and there is a wealth of existing good practice in the NHS and beyond to draw on.