The latest NHS staff survey data has revealed an apparent rise in workplace satisfaction among NHS staff, despite the obvious pressures facing services and an increase in physical threats from patients.
It paints a picture of nurses and midwives under “immense” pressure that risks driving people away from the profession, claimed nursing unions.
“The task going forward is to keep ensuring leaders listen to staff and provide the support they need”
In contrast, NHS leaders said the survey of more than 423,000 staff showed some small, but measurable improvements in the workplace, including when it came to raising concerns and feeling supported by managers.
However, they acknowledged there were still areas of concern, including the fact about 15% of staff experienced physical violence from patients, relatives and the public – a statistic that has not changed since 2012.
The 2016 NHS staff survey, which was carried out between September and December last year, is the biggest to date with 124,000 additional people taking part this time round.
It shows the overall score for staff engagement has continued to improve from 3.68 out of five in 2012 to 3.79 out of five last year. For registered nurses and midwives, it was 3.89 out of five in 2016, according to a breakdown of results for different occupational groups.
Other positives included the fact that overall staff confidence and security in reporting unsafe practice has gone up from 3.63 out of five in 2015 to 3.67 last year – 3.86 for nurses and midwives.
“There are simply too few staff to cope with the growing demands being made”
This is an example of one of 26 out of 32 key categories that have improved slightly since the previous year, including scores for training and staff involvement.
Others include the score for whether staff would recommend their organisation as a place to work or receive treatment, which increased from 3.72 in 2015 to 3.75 in 2016.
“Perhaps surprisingly, given the well understood pressures, it’s encouraging to see that frontline NHS staff say their experience at work continues to improve, with overall engagements scores at a five-year high,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
But he acknowledged there was “still much to be done to ensure staff are properly supported”.
Unions and professional bodies said there was no getting away from the fact staff were under strain with 46% saying there were not enough staff at their organisation to do their job properly.
Meanwhile, the survey showed 59% regularly did unpaid overtime and 29% were not satisfied with the standard of care they were able to give patients.
“People will be deterred from joining the nursing profession”
About 37% reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress in 2016, while 60% said they had come to work in the last three months, despite feeling too unwell to fulfil their duties.
“There are simply too few staff to cope with the growing demands being made on the NHS,” said Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea.
“Many regularly stay past the end of their shifts, only too aware of the effect upon patients and colleagues if they head for home on time,” she said.
“Yet despite their sterling efforts, many still feel they cannot deliver the care patients deserve,” she added.
The findings, published the day before the 2017 budget, highlighted the need for the government to put more money into the NHS and nursing, said the Royal College of Nursing.
“Unless the government shows it values those working under immense pressure and taking care of patients when they are most vulnerable, people will be deterred from joining the nursing profession and others will feel no choice but to leave it,” said RCN general secretary and chief executive Janet Davies.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives said the survey findings showed the health service continued to rely on the “goodwill” of staff.
“While the results show there have been some small improvements, if you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that fundamentally organisations are relying on the goodwill of midwives, maternity support workers and other NHS staff to plug the gaps,” said Jon Skewes, RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications.
He added: “This is leading to high levels of stress, burn out and the growing levels of disillusionment and dissatisfaction are causing midwives to leave midwifery.”
The survey found nearly 15% of staff had experienced physical violence from patients, relatives or the public in the last 12 months.
However, that went up to 18.7% of registered nurses and midwives and 35.5% of nursing and healthcare assistants.
Nearly 28% of all staff endured harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, relatives or the public, but that was 34.7% among nurses and midwives and 37.6% of nursing and healthcare assistants.
More than a quarter of nurses and midwives – 25.2% – reported being bullied or abused by another member of staff in the past 12 months.
Recent figures from NHS Protect show attacks on health service staff have risen sharply in the past year, which may be a symptom of increased delays and the frustrations and fraught atmosphere caused by understaffing, according to the RCN.
Overall 11.9% of staff reported experiencing discrimination at work in the last year – 11.6% for nurses and midwives and 17.1% for nursing support staff.
Meanwhile, only a third – 33% – reported good communication between senior management and staff, although this was up from 31.3% in 2015. This was 38.3% for nurses and midwives in 2016.
Nevertheless, the NHS Employers organisation maintained that efforts to improve day-to-day working conditions were effective.
“The task going forward is to keep sharing good practice and to keep ensuring national and local leaders listen to staff and provide the support they need to make it through this difficult period,” said NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer.