A scheme to identify the most important NHS leaders will name regulators, civil servants and quango chiefs.

Details of the Top Leaders programme have been fleshed out a year after leadership was placed at the heart of Lord Darzi’s next stage review.

NHS East Midlands chief executive and National Leadership Council member Dame Barbara Hakin told HSJ the 50 organisations being named as needing the most senior leaders would “inevitably” extend beyond trusts and commissioners.

They would include the Department of Health, Care Quality Commission, Monitor, NHS Institute and all strategic health authorities.

Dame Barbara said: “We’re consulting on this but there’s a reasonable assumption that these organisations require our most senior leaders.

“Beyond that, we want to make sure we’ve got a reasonable balance between providers and primary care trusts, mental health, etc.”

When the 50 organisations are identified, around 1,000 people in the most “business critical” roles, or with the potential to do so, will receive a tailored development programme.

Chief executives will be asked which posts they consider most business critical, which could include the entire board or posts that do not yet exist.

The 1,000 senior managers will be brought together to learn from each other and may be encouraged to take secondments in other sectors.

But while work on improving leadership skills is ploughing ahead, there is disagreement over levels of progress on other aspects of the next stage review workforce strategy, A High Quality Workforce.

NHS Employers deputy director Alastair Henderson said: “Staff engagement really has shot up the agenda in the last year.

“The recognition of the links between workforce strategies and quality has been a really interesting development.”

The NHS constitution had emphasised this commitment, he said.

Mr Henderson denied this would be undone by a tough battle over pay, redundancies or training budget cuts due to future spending restrictions.

He said: “What would disappoint staff most is feeling they were powerless, not involved in decisions and not being able to input into shaping the way forward.”

But Unite lead officer for nursing Barrie Brown said the next stage review had made “no difference” to staff engagement and warned workers would be prepared to fight to protect their pay and jobs.

On clinical engagement - a central plank of A High Quality Workforce - Royal College of Surgeons president John Black said it was “difficult to say” whether there had been much progress, due to the lack of firm proposals with timescales.

But NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the workforce strategy was broadly where he had hoped it would be, although establishing a Centre for Workforce Intelligence had developed “more slowly than hoped”. The centre is going out for tender this week.

His priorities for the next year were to take academic health science centres forward and to improve clinical leadership and board development.

He stressed that cutting training budgets was a “false way” to improve productivity.

What leaders are saying about progress on Darzi

Alan Maryon-Davis

President, Faculty of Public Health

“There’s a real danger that, despite the commitments to public health in Darzi and the review of the public health workforce under way, things will go completely southwards due to resource restrictions coming in after 2011.”

Alastair Henderson

Deputy director, NHS Employers

“Developments regarding workforce planning have happened at a slightly slower pace.

“Initially it wasn’t quite clear what was expected of employers and other groups.”

John Black

President, Royal College of Surgeons

“The wording of the Darzi reports was just anodyne. There’s been talk about clinical engagement since the beginning of the NHS.

“Everybody wants it but when the practicalities come down to it, it’s very difficult to introduce.”