Simon Stevens hails report showing nurse leaders make a difference to frontline staff engagement, sickness absence and use of agency workers

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens today (Wednesday 7 March) launched new research showing improved staff engagement is linked to lower staff sickness absence and reduced agency staffing costs.

Speaking at the Chief Nursing Officer’s summit in Liverpool, on the day after the annual NHS staff survey was published, Simon Stevens said: “This research shows that there is indeed 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.”

The independent research commissioned by NHS England from the Kings Fund linked trust data from 2016/17 (and, for some measures, for the previous year) from the NHS Staff Survey (employee engagement), NHS Digital (sickness absence), and NHS Improvement (agency and bank staff spend). Sickness absence rates vary more than two fold between NHS trusts, and there are also large variations in trusts’ staff engagement scores.

The new analysis concludes that: “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.”

The effect size was substantial – a one standard deviation increase in overall staff engagement is associated with a £1.7 million saving on agency staff costs for the average trust.

The NHS is increasingly successful in reducing temporary agency costs, which fell from £3.7 billion two years ago, to £3 billion last year and is on track for further efficiency gains this year.

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.”

Mr Stevens also used his speech to thank nurses and other NHS staff for their extraordinary commitment to patients over a highly pressurised winter, with flu hospitalisations three times higher than last year.

He explained that NHS England would be co-funding a major nurse recruitment campaign, timed to celebrate nursing and mark the 70th Anniversary of the NHS this summer.

And after seven years of NHS pay restraint, and growing issues with staff retention, he acknowledged the need for properly funded pay increases this year for nurses and other frontline NHS staff, as announced in principle by the Government in November.