Nurses talking during a ward round

NHS Staff Survey highlights a number of workforce trends

Among a range of trends, NHS staff saw an increase in stress, staff attending work when unwell and musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries during the past year, compared to 2020.

This was seen as the results of the 2021 NHS Staff Survey, conducted in Autumn 2021, was made public today (Wednesday March 30, 2022).

The results of the survey highlighted the pressures on the NHS and the need for action to address a number of the challenges, particularly around continued investment in workforce supply and in improving health and wellbeing across the service. There were also calls to further target a reduction in bullying and harassment and ensuring there is an equality of opportunity across the NHS.

Other trends seen within the 2021 NHS Staff Survey results included a general worsening across most questions from 2020 to 2021, with notable increases across work pressure, negative staff experiences, and a decline in health and wellbeing measures.

Nurse in a face mask talking notes from a machine

There were also relatively low results recorded around supporting learning – likely reflecting the disruption caused by the pandemic.

There were positives seen in some areas though. Team working results remained strong, while a new indicator looking at compassionate leadership saw a relatively high response.

Most staff also reported there was positive action on health and wellbeing by their employer and that they received support from their line manager, even if the figure did still fall slightly compared with the 2020 results.

A new approach for 2021

The 2021 NHS Staff Survey was the first year conducted since a realignment of the criteria reported, bringing it in line with the NHS People Promise, first published as part of the NHS People Plan in July 2020.

Whereas previous years had reported on ten overall themes, this latest survey focused on the seven elements of the NHS People Promise (most of which also include sub-themes). These themes and sub-themes were then scored by combining the answers to questions grouped under them – with the 2021 results showing as:

  1. We are compassionate and inclusive (7.2)
  2. We are recognised and rewarded (5.9)
  3. We each have a voice that counts (6.7)
  4. We are safe and healthy (6)
  5. We are always learning (5.3)
  6. We work flexibly (6)
  7. We are a team (6.6)

Two additional themes – staff engagement and morale – were also retained from the 2020 questions. Both themes saw a decrease between 2020 and 2021. Morale fell from 6.1 to 5.8 for 2021, while Staff Engagement fell from 7.0 to 6.8 for 2021.

The worsening of these two categories was highlighted as a significant cause for concern, with the rise in staff considering leaving and decline in staff willing to recommend the NHS as a place to work seen as the driving force behind the results.

The percentage of staff saying they were considering leaving the NHS rose from 26% to 31% for 2021. Equally, the percentage of staff recommending the NHS as a place to work fell from 67% to 60% in the 2021 results.

GP talking to a patient at a practice

It was also the first time in three years that the overall staff engagement indicator declined, driven largely by the fall in the advocacy sub-theme.

There were no significant change on levels of violence, but the rates of bullying and harassment reported rose.

Following a number of concerning decreases in factors across the health workforce in the 2021 NHS Staff Survey results, NHS Employers has advocated continued investment and support to increase staff numbers, target and relieve pressure points and create a positive working culture across the NHS.

The full 2021 NHS Staff Survey results can be accessed here.

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