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Better engagement could improve patient care

Healthcare providers must encourage staff engagement in order to improve patient care, a report published today has claimed. 

A report from the Point of Care Foundation shows that the way healthcare staff feel about their work affects patient care as well as the efficiency and financial performance of the organisation. 

By reviewing evidence from a wide range of sources, researchers found that stress and burnout are more frequent in the NHS than in other sectors, with 30% of sickness absence due to stress. 

And the NHS could save £555 million a year if it reduced sickness absence by a third.

NHS staff engagement fell for three consecutive years form 2009, before rising very slightly in 2012. Only 55% of staff would recommend their organisation as a place to work. 

The report demonstrates there are discrepancies between what senior managers and staff think and say when it comes to how effectively their organisation supports staff and promotes high quality patient care: 

 - Putting patients first: While 62% of NHS staff agree the care of patients and service users is their organisation's top priority, over a third either disagree (17%) or neither agree or disagree (21%). In contrast, 95% chief executives who responded to a survey for the Foundation reported that a focus on the quality of patient care was either fully in place or mostly in place within their organisation. 

 - Solving problems: While 74% of staff say they are able to make improvement suggestions, only one in four (26%) say senior managers act on them. CEOs, however, report that staff engagement is one of their top three priorities. Worryingly, while 86% of CEOs surveyed by the Foundation are confident staff are able to raise concerns, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development found that fewer than six in ten staff (58%) felt confident about doing so. 

 - Listening to and involving staff: only one in three NHS staff (35%) say communication between senior managers and staff is effective. Yet despite CEOs reporting that they prioritise staff engagement, nearly half (46%) of foundation trusts rely solely on the annual staff survey to formally canvas staff opinions.

Director Jocelyn Cornwell said: “It's the experiences of staff that shape patients' experiences of care, for good or ill, not the other way around. Working in healthcare ought to rank among the best jobs in the world, but far too many healthcare professionals feel over-worked, disempowered and unappreciated. 

“Caring for patients is very hard and challenging work. We want the NHS to be notable for being not only the largest employer in the country, but also the best. There is much good practice in the NHS, but for it to become the norm we need to close the gap between rhetoric and reality."

Janet Davies, director of nursing and service delivery at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nurses and other frontline health workers are at the heart of delivering care. They understand the issues facing the NHS and can provide the solutions. This is why it is so important that they are listened to and valued. When trusts fail to engage with their staff, opportunities for service excellence are missed.

“As this report makes clear, working cultures in the NHS have a significant impact on the quality of care provided to patients. Engaging with nursing staff and responding to their concerns about matters such as bullying and inadequate staffing levels will help NHS trusts to promote higher standards in patient care.”

The full report is available to view on the Point of Care Foundation website.