A programme to develop a superleague of chief executives for 40 of the 'toughest jobs in the NHS' will start in September.

The programme - which went out to tender last week - will develop a pool of managers with at least seven years' chief executive experience to be available for selection.

Health secretary Frank Dobson referred to the plans at the annual conference of the Institute of Health Services Management in Birmingham last week.

'Random... quirky decisions by non-executive directors that I may or may not have appointed' should not determine the leadership of 'those trusts which by their scale are considerably more demanding than others', he said.

NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands later mentioned plans to 'identify and develop a pool of people' able to take on the 'top 40 jobs in the country - not necessarily in terms of budget or even population' but those identified as 'the most difficult'. He added: 'That does not in any way cut across the principle that trusts and health authorities make the selection.'

Recruitment of the first cohort of chief executives will start in September, and the programme itself will begin in November.

Acting IHSM director Suzanne Tyler welcomed the acknowledgement 'of just how hard some of the management tasks within the NHS are'. She said the institute hoped to 'support and contribute' in developing 'more structured ways of developing and supporting people in the service'.

The programme would form a 'welcome addition' to the IHSM's own work on continuous professional development and its management training scheme.

'We keep bleating on about continuous professional development and lifelong learning all the time, but the need to develop managers is a constant stream.'

But Ms Tyler admitted the IHSM 'was unlikely to be in a position to put in a formal tender' to manage the programme.

See conference focus,

pages 10-12.

Executive spins learning web

The NHS Executive has launched the NHS Learning Zone on NHSnet.

The site is designed to spread information about good practice and contains a database of service delivery practice and a trust benchmarking database.