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NHSE staff survey delivers damning verdict on People Directorate

Published on: 12 May 2022

NHS England’s People Directorate recorded consistently poor results across the great majority of key measures according to the organisation’s annual Staff Survey, HSJ has discovered

The survey, which has been seen by HSJ, reveals the People Directorate scored the lowest of the 20 national and regional directorates in seven out of the survey’s nine key measures. The Communications and Medical directorates also performed badly, as did the South East regional office.

Regional offices in the north recorded most of the highest scores.

Overall the survey paints a picture of an organisation whose staff feel generally positive toward their organisation and, especially, about their teams and managers, but who are “frustrated”, “emotionally exhausted” and “worn out”.

The survey was undertaken in autumn last year. It ranked each of the 20 directorates/departments under the key themes of morale and staff engagement and also against the NHS’s seven “People Promise”. Each directorate was also given a score out of 10.

The People Directorate recorded the lowest score in seven out of nine measures: staff engagement, morale, compassion and inclusivity, recognition and reward, staff voice, wellbeing, and team working.

The “People Promise” was published in 2020 alongside the first part of the “People Plan”. The work was led by former chief people officer Prerana Issar, who stepped down from her role in March this year because of an “ongoing covid related illness”.

A new CPO is yet to be appointed and the directorate is currently being led by deputy CPO Em Wilkinson-Brice.

The Communications and CEO’s office performed only a little better. It scored below the NHSE/I average on eight measures and below the wider NHS on four measures.

The directorate - which mostly consists of communications staff - came bottom of the 20 NHSE departments in the two categories in which the People Directorate had not finished last: continuous learning and flexible working.

It also reported particularly poor morale, which was rated at 5.8 out of 10, far below the 7.1 out of 10 given by NHSE/I as a whole and the 6.9 given by the wider NHS. 

The comms and CEO teams did score more than seven out of 10 in the “compassion and inclusivity” and “being a team” categories. There was a positive increase shift in scores for equality, diversity and inclusion.

The Medical Directorate led by NHSE medical director Steve Powis was the third national group to record consistently low scores in the survey.

It was ranked in the bottom five of the 20 directorates in six of the nine categories, and came sixth in two more. Only the People Directorate did worse in the “we are a team” category.

By far the worst performing regional directorate was that serving the South East, which is led by Ann Eden. 

The South East came in the bottom quartile for eight of the nine categories, and was in sixth place for the other. The region scored particularly badly in the “compassion/inclusivity” and “recognition and reward” categories.

Best performers

The Emergency and Elective Care Directorate - led by Pauline Philip - was the best performing national directorate. However, it also had the lowest response rate of 50 per cent. The highest response rate was the Communications and CEO’s office at 85 per cent. The survey overall had a 70 per cent response rate, the highest of three annual polls so far conducted.

The second best national department was the Nursing Directorate, led by Ruth May, which performed significantly better than its Medical counterpart.

In terms of regions, Greater Manchester office performed the best, closely followed by the North East and Yorkshire office. The North West and South West offices also recorded good performances.

Overall performance

The survey recorded significant improvements in the percentage of NHSE/I staff who would “feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice”, that “my organisation would address my concerns”, and in those who believe NHSE/I “acts fairly with regard to career progression/promotion, regardless of ethnic background, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age”.

Eighty per cent or more of respondents also expressed satisfaction with levels of trust in the organisation, the ability to make suggestions for improvement and arrangements for flexible working. Most totals related to team working and relationships with their managers were also over 80 per cent.

The proportion of staff reporting physical assaults or bullying was very low.

However, 82 per cent of NHSE/I staff said they felt “frustrated”, 77 per cent were “worn out”, and 68 per cent were “emotionally exhausted”

An NHS spokeswoman, said: “The last two years have been the most challenging in the health service’s history and that is reflected in the NHS England and NHS Improvement staff survey, as it is in the findings from the service as a whole.

“While there is progress to note, with more staff reporting good support from their line manager and confidence when raising a concern, the results provide important learning for the organisation and individual teams are working on plans to deliver further improvements.”


*Amended at 11:00 on 12 May to correct that Pauline Philip leads the E&E directorate.