A new NHS scheme to develop the pharmacy leaders of the future

The views expressed in this letter are those of the author. If you would like to submit a letter to The Pharmaceutical Journal, please click here.

Clinical leadership is essential for the delivery of high-quality healthcare. Evidence, in the UK and internationally, shows that clinical leadership at senior management level is linked to better patient care and organisational performance, as well as staff satisfaction and retention​[1–3]​.

However, traditionally, pharmacy has low representation within senior leadership roles in the NHS. A third of NHS provider chief executives have a clinical background, of whom only 4% trained as pharmacist​[4]​. The development of integrated care presents opportunities for system leadership, but currently, few primary care network clinical directors are pharmacists. Particular challenges for leadership development are the lack of a defined pathway into senior management roles and limited exposure to broad-based, real-world experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the leadership potential of clinicians when they are empowered. Pharmacists at all levels and in all settings have stepped up as leaders, from taking on extended remits for community care, to playing pivotal roles at national, regional and local level in the vaccination programme. The NHS People Plan 2020/21 recognises the importance of this distributed leadership and commits to further build clinical leadership capability​[5]​.

To support this, NHS England and NHS Improvement launched the NHS Regional Clinical Fellow Scheme in April 2021. The scheme offers early career pharmacists (and other clinicians) the opportunity to work within regional teams of NHS England and NHS Improvement for one year, to develop leadership skills and gain experience. Fellows will lead on projects supporting national and regional priorities, including recovery and implementation of learning from the pandemic, and the integrated care system agenda. Fellowships are part-time (0.6 full-time equivalent) so participants can continue their clinical practice.

Through experiential learning, underpinned by a bespoke development programme, fellows will be able to develop the skills of collaborative leadership — how to build relationships and influence — and for leading compassionately and inclusively. The scheme is multi-professional, providing unique opportunities for interprofessional working and leadership — key capabilities of system leadership.

Clinical fellow schemes give great opportunities for personal development. Fellows will be able to access a host of resources through the NHS Leadership Academy to support them. On completion, fellows will also have continued development and support through the alumni scheme.

The NHS Regional Clinical Fellow Scheme is managed by the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management, and builds on the success of the national Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme, which has seen more than 40 talented aspiring pharmacy leaders pass through it since 2017.

The scheme is open for applications for fellows commencing in post in September 2021. Applications are welcomed from early career pharmacists and we are committed to recruiting a diverse range of candidates.

Find out more and apply at: https://www.fmlm.ac.uk/clinical-fellow-schemes/nhs-regional-clinical-fellow-scheme

Emma Mi, fellow in clinical leadership, NHS England and NHS Improvement, on behalf of the NHS Regional Clinical Fellow Scheme project team

  1. 1
    Management in healthcare: why good practice really matters. World Management Survey. 2010.http://worldmanagementsurvey.org/wp-content/images/2010/10/Management_in_Healthcare_Report_2010.pdf (accessed Apr 2021).
  2. 2
    Veronesi G, Kirkpatrick I. Clinicians on the board: what difference does it make? . Soc Sci Med 2013;77:147–55. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.019
  3. 3
    Sarto F, Veronesi G. Clinical leadership and hospital performance: assessing the evidence base. BMC Health Serv Res 2016;16. doi:10.1186/s12913-016-1395-5
  4. 4
    Clinician to chief executive: supporting leaders of the future. NHS Providers. 2021.https://nhsproviders.org/clinician-to-chief-executive-supporting-leaders-of-the-future (accessed 2021).
  5. 5
    We are the NHS: People Plan for 2020/2021 – action for us all. NHS England. 2020.https://www.england.nhs.uk/ournhspeople/ (accessed 2021).
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2021, Vol 306, No 7948;306(7948)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.78401

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