Enhancing the wellbeing of staff at work not only improves their life quality for but also the quality of patient experience, according to leading UK nurse researchers.
They said their findings demonstrated the “importance of investing in and supporting individual staff at work”.
Their call comes at a time when nurses are increasingly warning they are under pressure from cuts to staff, at risk from burnout and that patient care has worsened as a result. A survey carried out by Nursing Times in February this year found more than half of nurses believed their ward or unit was dangerously understaffed.
The academics, from the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London, said while it was “reasonable to presume” that patients received better care from nurses who felt happier in their work, little research had previously been done to prove it at ward or team level.
As a result, they studied links between patients’ experience of healthcare and staff wellbeing eight settings in four different trusts in England.
These comprised an emergency admissions unit, a maternity unit, an older patient’s ward, a haemato-oncology ward, two adult community nursing service teams, a community matron service and a rapid response team.
Overall, the study involved 200 hours of observation, interviews with 100 patients and 86 staff, and surveys of 500 patients and 300 staffs.
Analysis by the researchers identified seven staffing factors linked to good patient-reported experience. These included high levels of support from colleagues, low emotional exhaustion, support from managers and the trust and a good work “climate” at both local and organisation level.
“If staff wellbeing at work is good, it is likely that staff will perform better in their jobs, rather than the other way round,” the study authors concluded.
The researchers also noted that sickness absence should be viewed as a “barometer” of wellbeing issues that affect care quality, with high levels “indicative of a poor work climate”.
They recommended measures including the appointment by trusts of a board executive champion for staff health and wellbeing, and that occupational health departments should view sickness absence as an issue for the organisation rather than the individual.
“This study strongly suggests that there is a relationship between staff wellbeing and staff reported patient care performance and patient-reported patient experience,” they stated.
“Seeking systematically to enhance staff wellbeing is, therefore, not only important in its own right but can also improve the quality of patient experience,” the authors added.
The research is highlighted in the NNRU’s latest Policy Plus research summary report, which was published last week.
The findings echo those of the seminal Boorman report – formally known as the independent NHS Health and Wellbeing Review – which was published in 2009 under the previous government.
The report, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, highlighted the “relationship between staff health and wellbeing and performance on such key issues as patient satisfaction”.
It made 20 national recommendations, which the then health secretary Andy Burnham said he was committed to implementing.
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