NHS East of England has been told it needs to adopt a more “bottom-up approach” to supporting primary care trusts in the region.

The strategic health authority last week became the first to formally undergo the Department of Health’s assurance process. The process had previously been piloted earlier in the year in the South Central region.

The SHA was strong on leadership and motivation of staff, with the DH recommending that its “cutting edge” leadership and talent management programmes be used more widely

A panel of senior DH representatives, including NHS chief executive David Nicholson and medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, visited East of England for two days to talk to senior trust managers before feeding back their findings to the SHA.

The assurance process covers three areas - governance, performance and organisational and system health. The aim is to clarify the accountability of the SHA, provide assurance of its performance and give developmental feedback on how it can improve further.

The panel praised NHS East of England for its financial and performance turnaround, particularly in reducing waiting times and rates of healthcare associated infections in the region.

The SHA was also strong on leadership and motivation of staff, with the DH recommending that its “cutting edge” leadership and talent management programmes be used more widely.

However, the DH said the SHA needed to improve relations with PCTs and providers in order to support and develop them further as local system leaders.

NHS East of England assurance process project lead Ed Garratt agreed with the feedback. “We need to work more collaboratively [with PCTs and providers] and engage with clinicians and talents to unlock ideas. You can’t do this with a command and control approach,” he said.

There needed to be a “shift in emphasis from turnaround to support”, he added.

The DH will visit the remaining SHAs over the next few months. A full report on the East of England assurance process will be published soon.