News and Comment

Do GPs have the leadership skills to transform the NHS?

Monday 7 March 2011


A modern maxim in healthcare is that patients get higher quality and more efficient care at specialised hospital units, such as stroke care, maternity, and A&E units. The corollary of this maxim is that hospital services are not organised optimally to provide the best care at best value.

For years, the NHS has struggled with this dilemma of overhauling hospital services; the arguments are well-rehearsed, rational and evidence-based… but ultimately politically charged. Previous efforts to consolidate services, close wards, and move services into the community have met with significant public opposition.

With GPs soon in charge of commissioning healthcare, they will inherit an NHS that remains over-reliant on hospital care. But will they have the skills, tenacity and indeed the thick skins to reconfigure local health services successfully, particularly if this includes closing hospital wards and A&E units?

OPM recently conducted a study to identify the individual leadership challenges for GP commissioners. Our diagnostic exercise found that GP leaders will require high-level corporate and system leadership capability and capacity, as well as access to extensive technical commissioning and business skills. You can download a summary of the findings from the research here.

The study suggests GP leaders would benefit from focused support to address skills gaps in the following areas:

  • Collaborative leadership, partnership working and stakeholder engagement.
  • Strategic thinking, vision and outward focus.
  • Negotiating, influencing and conflict management.
  • Pathway re-design and managing change.
  • Political and public-facing skills.
  • Corporate and board leadership skills.

There’s no doubt that for the vast majority of GPs their primary focus will continue to be meeting the clinical needs of their patients. Yet the balancing of system leadership demands with clinical commitments will be crucial if the promise of GP commissioning is to be fulfilled.

The skills required for transforming healthcare are not taught in medical school. We must therefore pay equal attention to meeting GPs’ leadership development needs as we do to the establishment of GP commissioning consortia.