NHS England Staff Survey 2018 – where next for staff wellbeing?

Theresa Shaw, FoNS Chief Executive

Dr Theresa Shaw (NursD, BA (Hons), RNT, RN - Associate Facilitator

Yesterday saw the publication of the result of the NHS staff survey conducted in 2018. On the face of it, reading the first few lines of the NHS England news report, there are several positives for example almost three quarters of staff feel enthusiastic about their job. However, as the comments at the end allude, things are far from positive in many areas. I was especially drawn to the data around staff well-being and satisfaction at work. The fact that over 50% of staff still think about leaving their job and over 20% would leave the NHS is really saddening, yet I know from my work with individuals and teams that on a day to day basis ‘leaving’ is talked about by many. Of course some would argue people are just having a bad day, but honestly more than ever, I experience being with good people who feel they may not be able to carry on and I see behaviours that fail to recognise the pressure staff feel under.

Apparently, almost six in 10 staff have said they do unpaid overtime every week – again from experience this does not surprise me, but the impact is very worrying. I often wonder how people who, having worked a 12-hour shift and stayed late for one or more hours to help out, only to return the next morning to do the same thing again, keep going! It is also often the case that it is the same people who do this time and time again – for example, a ward manager told me that she feels bad that she often asks the same people to help out or do extra shifts because she knows they will say yes – she knows longer term this could be damaging but at times feel there is no other choice.

Fewer than three in 10 (28.6%) feel their trust takes positive action to improve staff health and wellbeing. I thought this was interesting as whilst I believe organisations are trying to do much more to support staff well-being, these efforts are often not reaching staff on the ground. Indeed, I recently heard comments about staff still thinking that by disclosing that they feel stressed or unable to cope, they will be showing a sign of weakness or failure and be viewed negatively. The view that acknowledging a lack of resilience is still discouraged was also highlighted in research reported by Professor Gemma Stacy. The fact that 39.8% of staff reported feeling unwell because of work related stress is hardly surprising; it is apparently the worst result in the last 5 years.

I noted in a Guardian report, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was quoted as saying “I love the NHS – and it is nothing without its people, who dedicate their lives to caring for us in our times of greatest need. We must place the same emphasis on caring for the carers and our long-term plan for the NHS will build a more modern working culture where everyone feels supported and valued”.

Great words! It is translating these into action which is the difficult bit. The essence of this message about placing the wellbeing and care of staff alongside that of people using our health services is something FoNS has been emphasising for many years now. Indeed, it was one of the key things that came out of our work between 2012-2104 around Creating Caring Cultures. The output from our work doesn’t by any means have all the answers but the ‘Creating Caring Cultures in Health and Social Care: Getting Started’ Resources offer a way for team leaders and teams to begin to have conversations about the culture of their workplace; what is important to them and how they might work together to create a culture that is more person-centred for all – staff and people using services, creating an experience for all that is more caring, safe and effective.

As you will see in the FoNS News this week, we have recently published a new edition of the Creating Caring Cultures booklet including an update which emphasises even more the importance of staff wellbeing. The booklet is free to download, along with a range of accompanying resources.  As I say, these are not a magic wand or silver bullet, rather they are a way of beginning to look at what is happening in the workplace and promoting conversations that are more honest about what is happening in practice. For me, this is essential to thinking about change that might just sustain the great staff we have for the future.

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