The King’s Fund response to Matt Hancock’s speech on leadership

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In a speech to The King’s Fund annual conference, Matt Hancock MP announced a series of measures to improve leadership in the NHS. His speech coincided with the publication of the Sir Ron Kerr review into the key challenges faced by executive leaders across the NHS.

Commenting on the Secretary of State’s speech and The Kerr Review, Suzie Bailey, Director of Leadership and Organisational Development at The King’s Fund, said:

‘NHS leaders face a near-toxic mix of pressures with widespread staffing vacancies, significant financial and performance challenges and a common culture of blaming individuals for failures beyond their control. It is little surprise that more than a third of NHS trusts have at least one vacant executive director role.

‘The Secretary of State is right to emphasise the importance of leadership and culture but the challenge is to translate this ambition into reality. Many of the actions announced today have been tried before and there is already a national framework for developing leaders in England which is only two years old. So the question is what will be different this time around?

‘Sir Ron Kerr’s report rightly highlights a top down, bullying culture which has been prevalent in the NHS for too long. This must change, starting at the top with the behaviour of national bodies.

‘We welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the importance of diversity. There is a clear moral and business case for NHS organisations to make this a strategic priority and a strong link between valuing diversity and better patient care. 

‘The message to national NHS leaders is clear – take culture and leadership seriously if you want to improve standards of care for patients. It is not soft and it is not optional.  

‘Leadership and culture is core to the work of The King’s Fund and we have published a series to tools, evidence and guidance to support leaders in developing compassionate cultures.’

Notes to editors

For further information, contact Andrew McCracken, Head of Press and Public Affairs, on 020 7307 2594 or 07774 907 960.

In July 2018 The King’s Fund and NHS Providers published a report analysing leadership in today's NHS. The authors found that:

  • 8 per cent of executive director posts are vacant   
  • more than a third (37 per cent) of trusts have at least one vacant executive director role, with director of operations, finance and strategy roles having particularly high vacancy rates or short tenures 
  • more than half (54 per cent) of directors have been appointed in the past three years and the median tenure of a chief executive is just three years 
  • short tenure was a concern for all executive director roles, but a particular problem for chief operating officer roles
  • trusts rated 'inadequate' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) experience higher levels of vacancies and turnover rates – these trusts had 14 per cent of posts vacant and 72 per cent of their executives had been appointed in 2017.

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.