Mixed results for Ambulance Trusts in NHS Staff Survey

The results of the 2017 NHS Staff Survey, the largest workforce survey in the world, were reported by NHS England in early March. The 2017 survey was the biggest survey in the history of the programme with over 487,000 NHS staff responding – around two in five of all NHS staff in England.

The national results made for difficult reading; there were declines across many of the survey’s 94 questions with only a few improvements since 2016.

Chris Graham, CEO of Picker, commented that “Ambulance services face particular challenges in ensuring good staff experience. The nature of the organisations are such that many staff are highly mobile, performing skilled roles in dynamic and often unpredictable contexts. These difficulties have long been reflected in results from the NHS Staff Survey, which has routinely shown that staff experience in ambulance trusts lags behind other parts of the NHS.

In 2017, this pattern has been repeated. While there weren’t significant declines among the questions, there also weren’t the improvements that NHS managers and policy makers would have been hoping to see.

This is ‘mixed picture’ is particularly evident regarding respondents 84% of from Ambulance Trusts reporting that they worked unpaid extra hours, which is 2% improvement from 2016. Nationally, this figure was reported as 72% in 2017, but shows no improvement on 2016 figures. Again, a mixed picture for Ambulance Trusts; while results are far higher than the national average, they are modestly improving while nationally they remained the same.

Similarly, work-related stress of people working in ambulance services. Almost half (49%) of staff working at ambulance trusts reported that they had felt unwell due to work related stress in the previous 12 months and this figure has not improved since the 2016 survey. Nationally, the percentage of people reporting this is significantly lower, with 38% reporting having felt unwell due to stress in the previous 12 months, but the figure has declined slightly since 2016 when the percentage was 37%. Ambulance Trust staff therefore have reported more experiences of feeling unwell due to stress but at a consistent percentage on 2016 figures, whereas nationally the situation is becoming worse.

Chris Graham commented:
“It is encouraging to note that the ambulance sector has maintained results where other sectors have declined, for example, the proportion of staff feeling unwell due to work related stress has increased by at least 1% point in all other sectors, but results for ambulance trusts remain unchanged.

“However, this still leaves 49% of ambulance staff reporting work related stress compared to an NHS average of 38% – indicating that more needs to be done to address the gap in staff experiences.”

The findings follow research recently published by Picker and The King’s Fund that shows a clear relationship between workforce pressure and patient and staff experience. The report, titled ‘The risks to care quality and staff wellbeing of an NHS system under pressure’, considered the relationships between the self-reported experiences and wellbeing of NHS staff, measures of workforce pressures in the health system, and patients’ experiences of their care. It concluded that, unsurprisingly, work force factors such as sickness absence are negatively associated with staff experience at work, but also that poor staff experience is related to poor patient experience outcomes.

Chris Graham concluded that:
“There is strong evidence to show that staff experiences at work are linked to the pressures & challenges that people face in their roles, and that staff wellbeing drives the quality of people’s experiences. Similarly, we know that good staff experiences are associated with better clinical outcomes and patient experiences. The results from today’s survey show that organisations are working hard to address staff well being, but equally that the workforce remains under considerable pressure. Additional support for staff is needed to ensure that employees are well looked after and that the service is able to provide the highest quality of care.

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