A healthy interest in improving skills

An `executive MBA' scheme is helping NHS managers to deliver a more professional service
Whatever New Labour does to improve the ailing National Health Service, it appears to be becoming clear that its management is becoming more professional. Projects ranging from preparing part of the service for a new customer-focused culture, through reviewing the management of emergency patients, to investigating the implications of freeing up hospital bed space by treating chronically ill patients at home will be rewarded when Ashridge Management College's executive MBAs are presented tomorrow.

Appropriately enough, given that these projects are the work of three of the eight health service managers in the group of 48 people graduating from Ashridge's part- and full-time MBAs this year, the degrees will be awarded by Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS. Many of the recipients have been supported through their one- or two-year programmes by NHS bursaries worth more than pounds l5,000 each because Ashridge is one of a small band of business schools approved for running career-development courses for health service managers.

One of the latest of the 22 health service staff who have studied for the MBA since it began nine years ago is Helen Glenister, nursing director of the Medical Devices Agency. Prior to joining the organisation that since 1994 has been charged with ensuring that products as varied as hospital beds and syringes meet safety, quality and performance standards, Dr Glenister worked at the Oxfordshire and Anglia Health Trust and the East Anglia Regional Health Authority. She says the MBA met her expectations of preparing her for the wider implications of a management role.

Similar aims were behind Ann Ingham's decision to study at the college in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. A trained nurse who moved into management at the time of the Government's health service reforms in 1990, she is executive director of Tameside Acute Services NHS Trust in Lancashire. "A greater awareness of finance, marketing and team-working skills, and the ability to understand `the vocabulary' of management was an invaluable result," she says.

This widening of horizons was also cited by Paula Friend, a senior manager with the Worthing and Southlands NHS Trust in West Sussex who added that the emphasis on strategy had helped her become more pro-active in relation to planning.

At the same time the participants - and their organisations - had gained specific benefits through having to complete projects that were essentially live consultancy programmesn