This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

NHS Staff Morale Slumps Again

Almost a third of employees in NHS trusts in England said they often thought about leaving their job, with work demands and inadequate staffing levels ranking highly for workplace dissatisfaction. The percentage of workers satisfied with their pay dropped markedly by 7% to just 25.6% of those taking part in the NHS Staff Survey 2022.

Results also showed that more than a third of staff had witnessed errors, near misses, or incidents in the previous month that could have hurt staff or patients.

The survey had a response rate of 46%, involving 636,348 NHS staff, and 264 organisations took part, including all 215 trusts in England.

Staff Morale and Workplace Pressures

Overall morale among trust staff declined in 2022 for a second consecutive year to stand at 5.7 of 10 – 0.1 point lower than in the previous year, and 0.3 points lower than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The proportion who said they often think about leaving their organisation was 32.3%, which was up on the 31.2% who shared that sentiment in 2021. In 2019, it stood at 28.4%. Staff in ambulance trusts were most likely to hold that view; the proportion thinking of leaving was 42.9%, whilst the largest increase this year was in acute and acute and community trusts, where the percentage increased by more than 6% to stand at a 5-year high.

The survey found that 23.7% said they would probably look for a new job at a new organisation in the next year, with the sharpest increase among nurses and healthcare assistant staff. The proportion of people who wanted to leave their current organisation as soon as they could find a new job was 17.3%, with ambulance operational staff most likely to hold that view.

The work pressure score deteriorated to 5.0 of 10 last year, which was the worst score in 5 years, having peaked at 5.6 in 2020.

Only a quarter of respondents (26.4%) said staffing levels at their organisation were sufficient for them to do their job properly, whilst fewer than 5 in 10 (42.9%) said they were able to meet all the conflicting demands on their time.

On a positive note, 86.9% said they felt their role made a difference to patients and service users, and 74% agreed that their organisation prioritised patient care.

Safety Concerns

For the first time in the 2022 survey, NHS staff were asked about episodes when something might have gone wrong in their workplace. Results showed that 33.5% said they had seen errors, near misses, or incidents in the last month that could have hurt staff, patients, or service users. Respondents working in ambulance trusts and acute, and acute and community trusts, were most likely to have witnessed such events, where the percentage was 40.6% and 35.4%, respectively.

However, 86.1% of staff said their organisation encouraged staff to report safety issues, 67.3% said their organisation took action to lessen the chances of them being repeated, and 58.1 agreed that their organisation was fair to staff involved in any error.

Commenting on the survey, NHS Providers said the repercussions of a "hugely challenging" year for the health service had been "laid bare" by the results. Chief Executive Sir Julian Hartley said: "Staff satisfaction with pay is at an all-time low and has been compounded by worries over the soaring cost of living. These frustrations have understandably spilled over with widespread industrial action by several staff groups across the health service in recent months."

On safety issues, Sir Julian said: "Given severe staff shortages and over 124,000 vacancies across the NHS in England alone, it comes as no surprise that there more staff are reporting unhappiness with the standard of care provided by their organisation and concerns over the impact this is having on patient safety."

Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said: "While it's promising to see that the majority of NHS staff continue to feel enthusiastic about their job, today's statistics paint a bleak picture of the extreme pressures staff are under, and the direct impact this could potentially be having on patients.” The RCP reiterated calls for the Government to produce a fully funded workforce plan.

Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, commented: "Chronic staff shortages create stress and suffering for everyone in health care, day after day, week after week. It is patients who ultimately feel the impact of these compounding pressures. These findings lay bare not only the intensifying staffing crisis in our NHS, but the devastation that is waiting in the wings if action is not taken quickly."