What does it do?

It is Europe's biggest employer, created in 1948 in the sweep of welfare state innovations introduced by the post-war Labour government. Divided into hundreds of constituent organisations, the NHS has undergone numerous structural changes down the years, and continues to be one of the most sensitive political footballs. Everyone has a view, because everyone has first-hand experience. The bureaucracy behind the hospitals, primary care trusts, ambulance services and everything else in between is huge - some say too big, now that administrators' numbers rival those of doctors and nurses. But there has always been a need for good managers, who are recruited along completely separate channels from medical staff. In fact, the NHS National Management Training Schemes celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.

Vital statistics:

The NHS employs approximately 1.2 million staff and provides an enormous range of services to the entire UK, something close to 60 million people. The annual budget is around £70bn.

The office:

Big decisions are made in that modern red brick building the TV correspondents stand in front of on the news. It's in Whitehall, near the Cenotaph.

Is this you?

There are three different management training schemes. This year 90 graduates are being recruited for the General scheme, 65 for Financial and 28 for HR. A 2:2 in any subject is the minimum requirement.

The recruitment process:

Online applications and numerical tests, at www.bringingleadershiptolife.nhs.uk, precede first interviews and group exercises. The final stage is a 24-hour leadership test at an assessment centre, designed to simulate a day in the life of an NHS manager. For those selected, training varies according to the individual scheme, but everyone starts with two or three months' orientation. General recruits work towards a masters degree in Healthcare Leadership and Management, while spending two years in at least three different jobs. The HR scheme is of a similar length and character, while aimed at acquiring postgraduate qualifications in the personnel field. Finance graduates spend nearly three and a half years training, and along the way become professional accountants, with either CIMA or CIPFA after their names.

Top dollar?

All graduates start on around £20,000, plus a cost of living allowance in the more expensive parts of the country.

Beam me up Scotty?

These schemes are specifically designed to produce the NHS Directors and Chief Executives of the future, and flexibility will assist a speedy rise up the hierarchy. In any case, with an organisation of this size, variety of opportunity will be huge.

Who's the boss?

Political leadership rests with the Secretary of State, currently Patricia Hewitt, with a seat in the Cabinet. The day-to-day running of the show is the responsibility of the Chief Executive, a position filled by Sir Nigel Crisp since 2000. He managed several big hospitals on his way to the top job.

Little known fact:

Every year, the NHS spends over £2,800 for every household in the UK.