Dr Raj Kumar and Dr Andrew Coley

The NHS Clinical Leaders Network is a national, professional network for clinicians in England, sponsored by NHS Connecting for Health. It aims to improve engagement with clinical leaders to promote reform and to give them direct access to policy leads. The network is live in four strategic health authorities and is due to be rolled out across the country by spring 2009.

Dr Raj Kumar, national clinical director of the CLN, and Dr Andrew Coley, senior clinical adviser and chair for the CLN in NHS North West, introduce the network, outline some of the successful outcomes of its initial pilot, and discuss what 2009 has in store.

The health service has moved away from implementation of technology alone to the important aspect of how health informatics can support improved clinical practice.

NHS Connecting for Health, working with the health service, is gradually building an infrastructure that not only allows patient-related information to be transferred efficiently and securely, but which also helps those of us working in the NHS to assess our performance, so we can continue to improve.

Such a system should have clinical engagement as its core principle. Clinical engagement is key to delivering NHS reform. Without meaningful engagement and support for clinicians to lead innovation, we will hamper the realisation of the NHS as proposed in Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review.

From local to national

The need for an improved dialogue with clinicians led to the creation of the NHS Clinical Leaders Network in 2006. It is built on a model of partnership working between clinicians and managers, as represented by its “double helix” logo.

As a national, professional network for clinicians in England, it has three main aims: to improve engagement with clinical leaders; to improve the delivery of service reform; and to enable clinicians to influence policy by providing them with direct access to policy leads.

Following the success of a two year pilot in NHS North West, it is currently being rolled out across England and is already live in four strategic health authorities, with the remainder set to be active by the end of spring 2009.

A catalyst for change

The network is aimed at all healthcare professionals and those taking part do not necessarily have to occupy management roles, since new technologies have led to many changes in service delivery and to the way that many healthcare professionals work.

The role of the strategic health authority chief information officer now has an increased focus on ensuring that clinicians and mangers are communicating effectively to bring about the changes that are needed to improve patient safety and increase clinical quality.

This is where the CLN has a key role to play, by providing a mechanism for bridging the gap between clinicians and managers through action learning sets. In these sets, groups of between 60 and 120 clinicians from each SHA meet every month to listen, discuss and debate local issues, before spending a further session leading service reform in their health area.

This enables the CLN to act as a catalyst for change, and as a mechanism for spreading a deeper understanding of the benefits that new and information technologies can bring.

We already know from the CLN pilot in the North West that effective engagement with clinicians, and between clinicians and managers, leads to increased and more efficient uptake of services. In the North West, the CLN concentrated on the delivery of Choose and Book, with network members requested to engage Choose and Book leads and implementation staff in their areas over a three month period.

Prior to CLN involvement, North West overall performance was fourth nationally. Following the network activity, the SHA was ranked first overall. Those primary care trusts with CLN membership demonstrated an improved uptake profile that was not replicated consistently in other regions of the country.

From technology to reform

However, the CLN has a wider focus than technological implementation. Its aim is to support SHAs to deliver their priorities for reform, with informatics as a key enabler in a wider strategy.

For example, NHS London has elected to focus on improving maternity and young people’s services. Health informatics, with a focus on how sharing of data and patient information can lead to improved services, is already shaping up to form a key strand to this work.

Our current challenge is to use new technologies to ensure that good practice can be shared across the network, to facilitate service reform on a national scale. In partnership with CLN members, we have developed a knowledge sharing strategy that examines options such as an interactive online portal for case studies based around specific topics, as well as podcasting key information for members.

We are continuing to develop a specification for this work and would like to hear different views – so do email cln@nhs.net to receive a copy of the strategy and to send us any thoughts and feedback.

Sharing knowledge in this way is still relatively new to the NHS and we look forward to the exciting possibilities that it brings. Furthermore, we are developing an evaluation strategy that sets out how we will measure personal and organisational progress and our impact on the NHS. Both areas of work should be completed by spring 2009.

We hope the CLN will be a supporting body for innovative clinicians who aspire towards leading reform in their area and who are committed to working with their peers to achieve this.


NHS Clinical Leaders Network