Transforming the NHS - a programme for senior leaders at NHS North West Leadership Academy

We delivered a transformational leadership programme, commissioned by NHS North West Leadership Academy, aimed at enabling senior leaders to build new ways of working across whole health systems. Participants – more than 200 to date – say they have gained improved understanding of the whole health system, more effective influencing strategies, greater confidence in their leadership capability, and an increased personal resilience.

The NHS North West Leadership Academy has high standards and internal leadership expertise; it is essential to be able to work in partnership with development providers to co-design and co-produce the most appropriate leadership development interventions that seek to support and develop leaders to really make a difference to patients, service users and citizens. The strong relationship we have enjoyed for many years with The King’s Fund enables this and produces well- informed, highly effective programmes like Transforming the NHS.

Deborah Davis, Managing Director, NHS North West Leadership Academy.

The NHS North West Leadership Academy provides leadership development for senior NHS leaders across the north-west of England. It is built on a membership model, enabling it to work closely with its stakeholders to identify development needs.

Following the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the NHS North West Leadership Academy recognised an increasing demand for leaders to take a strategic overview of the health care system in their area and to lead cross-sector transformational change. This requires a shift in behaviour and beliefs. Designing health care services for the future will mean leaders need to build collaborations with multiple partners across public, private and voluntary sectors.

NHS North West Leadership Academy commissioned The King's Fund to deliver a transformational leadership programme for senior leaders, which would enable participants to build new ways of working across whole health systems.

Our approach

We co-designed the Transforming the NHS programme with NHS North West Leadership Academy. The programme covered technical skills and confidence-building in leadership and behavioural change. Partnership and collaboration were central to the design of the programme, and were also emphasised within its content.

We carried out an initial diagnostic exercise to understand the level of skills and knowledge that delegates already had, and designed a bespoke programme based around their needs. Delegates asked for support in understanding the specific challenges and changing health and care environment in the north-west, as well as help to build their expertise in health care leadership.

Senior NHS leaders from 40 organisations took part, with more than 25 roles represented across the programme. In an attempt to mirror the diversity in the health care system, and following previous multi-professional programmes delivered by NHS North West Leadership Academy, we ensured cohorts were as mixed as possible. Senior finance, operational and HR managers worked alongside GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and other health professionals. This created a multidisciplinary learning environment that enhanced participants’ understanding of the wider health care system and helped to form the basis of important partnerships and potential collaborations going forward.

The Transforming the NHS programme made full use of limited classroom time, combining experiential workshops with taught masterclasses, online support and reading material, and balancing theory with practice. Participants heard from expert patients, commercial sector directors, board members and thought leaders, creating a kaleidoscope of perspectives on key strategic health care challenges.

Participants were encouraged to experience, reflect on and apply their learning in their own organisational contexts, and to report feedback on impacts. We also ran action learning sets (where small groups meet regularly to work together on complicated issues) with the intention that these would become self-sufficient. The action learning sets focused not just on enabling members to learn by doing, but also on embedding learning methods that could be taken back into organisations. Facilitators were drawn from alumni of a previous NHS North West Leadership Academy development programme, making the most of existing skills and capability in the north-west to develop future leaders.

Our impact

Between September 2012 and June 2013, 200 people took part in the programme, successfully developing the skills, knowledge and leadership capability that senior leaders need to drive transformational change.

Participants reported improved understanding of the whole health care system, more effective influencing strategies, greater confidence in their leadership capability, and an increased personal resilience.

The learning that people shared with each other, particularly through the action learning sets, was key. Over the course of the programme, several people reported that they had found ways forward in dealing with previously intractable problems with the help of their learning set.
Participants also regularly visited each other to see and compare work, creating a self-sustaining community of practice and bringing the learning from the programme back into each separate organisation. These networks have continued to develop since the programme ended.