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Research reveals ‘virtuous circle’ of staff engagement and absence

Staff engagement is linked to lower sickness absence and reduced agency costs, research has shown.

Speaking at the Chief Nursing Officer’s summit in Liverpool this week, Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive said that the research confirms that there is a “virtuous circle.”

“Where hospitals and community services involve and engage their frontline staff, sickness absence is low and expensive temporary agency costs are lower.

“That’s a win for nurses, who are the largest group of health professionals. But it also benefits patients and taxpayers,” he explained.

The independent research by the King’s Fund was commissioned by NHS England and looked at data from 2016-17 from the NHS Staff Survey, NHS Digital, and NHS Improvement to establish staff engagement, sickness absence, and agency and bank staff spend.

It found that sickness absence rates vary more than two-fold between NHS trusts, and that there are large variations in trusts’ staff engagement scores.

The analysis concludes: “There is clear evidence that trusts with higher engagement levels have lower levels of sickness absence among staff, and also have lower spend on agency and bank staff.”

According to NHS England, the effect size was “substantial”, with one standard deviation increase in overall staff engagement being associated with a £1.7m saving on agency staff costs for the average trust.

Michael West, senior visiting fellow at the King’s Fund, said: “The findings complement a consistent pattern of results demonstrating that supporting staff and creating positive work environments through compassionate and collective leadership is good for staff, vital for patient care and key also to good financial performance in the NHS.”

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