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Understaffing and bullying remain problems for NHS

A quarter of NHS workforce respond to survey

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Less than a third of NHS workers feel there are enough staff to enable them to do their jobs properly.

This is one of the findings in the annual NHS Staff Survey, published this week by NHS England. 

Almost 300,000 staff (approximately a quarter of the permanent NHS workforce) responded to the confidential survey, carried out between September and December 2015, across 297 NHS organisations. 

Many staff reported feeling under pressure with only 31% agreeing that there were enough staff at their organisations to enable them to do their jobs properly. Some 48% of respondents said they felt there should be more staff at their organisation, while 37% reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress in the last year.

A quarter of staff reported experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from fellow staff, while 11% said they had suffered discrimination at work in the past 12 months. 

However, the report also revealed a number of positives, with 80% of staff feeling able to do their job to a standard that they were personally pleased with - up from 78% last year. Furthermore, 89% of staff agreed that their organisation took positive action on employee health and wellbeing.

Some 73% of staff said patient care was their organisation’s top priority, and the percentage witnessing potential harmful errors, near misses or incidents in the last month, was at its lowest level since 2011. 

Commenting, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “This feedback from 300,000 frontline NHS staff contains encouraging signs that the health service is steadily becoming a more supportive employer, but it also includes continuing warning signs about the importance of every employer tackling discrimination, bullying and harassment, supporting staff health and wellbeing, and giving staff the support they need to provide compassionate high quality care. The best NHS employers know that staff wellbeing and high quality patient care are two sides of the same coin.”

Neil Churchill, Director for Patient Experience at NHS England, said: “Staff feedback is a good way of predicting patient experience and the improvements we have seen in levels of staff motivation and engagement promise future improvements in the quality of patient care. It is also clear, however, that staff face growing pressures in meeting rising levels of patient need. The quality of staff experience needs to remain a high priority for the NHS if we are to support our staff and sustain improvements in patient experience.”

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said the annual survey reflected the “commitment of NHS staff to deliver excellent patient care amidst immense pressure and challenges facing the health service”.

However, he added: “The variation in staff experience across the NHS remains a real concern for employers, and Boards will want to do more to address this.

"NHS Employers will continue to support NHS organisations with a range of resources and by sharing practical examples of good practice including those related to the physical and mental wellbeing of staff, as well as staff engagement and diversity.”

The survey was run and coordinated by the Picker Institute Europe. Its director of research and policy and chief investigator for the survey, Chris Graham, said: “Today’s publication shows welcome improvements in some key measures of staff experience, including overall engagement and staff willingness to recommend their organisations.”

But he added: “Too many staff complain about inadequate resources, staffing shortages, and the deleterious impact of their work on their own health and wellbeing.  Furthermore, results show considerable variation across and within different types of organisation. We call on all employers to closely review their results and take action to ensure staff are supported and listened to.  After all, staff wellbeing is not only important in and of itself, but it is also an essential driver of productivity and patient experience: staff experience cannot and must not be ignored.”

The Royal College of Nursing, called on the NHS to listen to its frontline staff. Commenting on the findings, Janet Davies, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said: “This survey paints a picture of an organisation whose staff feel undervalued, underpaid and unable to provide the level of patient care they would like. Despite all the rhetoric about the importance of patient safety, NHS staff are still reporting inadequate staffing levels with only 30% saying that their organisation has enough staff for them to do their job properly. 

“As a result, almost two thirds of staff are coming to work despite feeling unable to perform their duties. This would not happen if they did not feel services were stretched to breaking point. These numbers must not be ignored, they must be acted upon.

“It is hardly surprising that so few staff are satisfied with what they earn after years of pay restraint. The Government is expected to announce next year’s pay award soon; it is time for them to show staff that they are truly valued. For all the talk about improving services for patients and improving the working culture of the NHS, this survey shows that staff are still not being involved in decisions, still not being given the support they need to do their jobs properly, and still not being valued.

“If the NHS is to properly care for patients, it must listen to its frontline staff and act on their concerns.”

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