Recognising the barriers to clinical leadership is the only way to overcome them and give clinicians a viable leadership career path, says Rebecca Bridger

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It is widely understood that in order to meet the aspirations of the Five Year Forward View the NHS is going to need more clinical leaders to drive radical service redesign and improvement. It is also accepted that more needs to be done to support clinical leaders.

Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Together with NHS Clinical Commissioners we carried out in-depth surveys with over 20 clinical leaders, chairs and chief clinical officers to find out what this support might look like.

Identifying clinical leaders earlier in their careers was a recurrent theme across all our interviews. This means having a strong medical leadership structure with doctors in leadership roles at all levels within the organisation.

By having clinical leadership at divisional and departmental levels, which is supported by managers, clinicians are much more likely to embrace leadership. Creating a clear career path at the beginning of a medical career was seen as a critical first step.

‘Creating a clear career path at the beginning of a medical career was seen as a critical first step’

Many clinical leaders, particularly those working for CCGs, talked of the perceived risk of giving up work in their GP practices. One clinical leader we spoke to suggested providing opportunities so people could try out clinical leadership in CCGs before taking on the full clinical chair, or chief clinical officer role.

Finding the time for extra courses to help with clinical leadership skills was also an issue for some. Many of the courses cited lacked flexibility around attendance and, as a result, some have waited months to carry out the training.

One area on which the majority of those we spoke to were all in agreement was a perceived lack of role models and inspirational clinical leaders. Without this inspiration, attracting the next generation of clinical leaders – particularly women who see NHS management as being male dominated – will be an uphill struggle.

Rebecca Bridger is associate partner and head of clinical search at Hunter Healthcare.