Expert advice

Workforce: What do the 2016 NHS staff survey results really tell us?

Much is made about signs of stability and improvement, but the most important messages for policy makers can often be found in the less positive findings, says workforce expert James Buchan. 
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Much is made about signs of stability and improvement, but the most important messages for policy makers can often be found in the less positive findings, says workforce expert James Buchan

Every year, the NHS in England conducts what is almost certainly the biggest regular staff survey in health care, anywhere in the world.

The 2016 NHS staff survey involved 316 NHS organisations, with 982,000 NHS staff invited to participate. Returns from more than 423,000 staff equated to a response rate of 44%. The findings were published in early March, and as ever with such surveys, some messages instantly emerge.

Much is made about signs of stability or improvement in issues like staff

...

Much is made about signs of stability and improvement, but the most important messages for policy makers can often be found in the less positive findings, says workforce expert James Buchan 


Sometimes it is the less positive survey findings that are the most significant. Picture: iStock

Every year, the NHS in England conducts what is almost certainly the biggest regular staff survey in health care, anywhere in the world. 

The 2016 NHS staff survey involved 316 NHS organisations, with 982,000 NHS staff invited to participate. Returns from more than 423,000 staff equated to a response rate of 44%. The findings were published in early March, and as ever with such surveys, some messages instantly emerge.

Much is made about signs of stability or improvement in issues like staff 'engagement', a reduction in reported levels of work-related stress, and the number of incidents and errors. 

This sometimes excludes other results that might be less positive or clear cut, but it is often in these grey areas that some of the most important messages for policy makers emerge.

Other issues 

Two are worthy of note. First, that only 37% of staff reported they are satisfied with their pay, a proportion that hasn't changed since 2015. Second, that only half of registered nurses and midwives agree or strongly agree that there is adequate staffing for them to be able to do their jobs properly.

The other issue that requires more consideration is the response rate to the survey. At 44%, it is an improvement on last year, but is well below what was achieved a few years ago. In 2004, it was 60%, falling to 54% in 2010 and to 41% in 2015.

There are also significant differences in organisation-level response, with a striking variation in the response rate of acute trusts, which ranged from 33% to 77%. 

Are staff more likely to respond if they are happy in their work, or disgruntled? Is a trust with a low response rate a relatively 'good' or 'bad' employer? And, most importantly, just how 'engaged' are the 56% of staff who did not respond?

 


About the author 

 

 

 

James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
 

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