What is the NHS Staff Survey?

The NHS Staff Survey is one of the most extensive workforce surveys in the world, which has been conducted annually since 2003. Over a million NHS employees are invited to participate and provide feedback about their experiences of working for their respective NHS organisations. The survey offers essential and robust information to employers and national stakeholders about staff experience across the NHS in England.

NHS England commissions the survey and appoints a survey coordination centre (currently based at Picker) to manage the survey process throughout England. Approved contractors, of which Picker is one, then administered the survey on behalf of NHS organisations.

The NHS Staff Survey is founded upon the NHS constitution and directly measures many of the pledges that this makes to staff, including:

  • To provide staff with clear roles and responsibilities and rewarding jobs.
  • To provide all staff with personal development plans, appropriate training and the support of line management.
  • To provide support and opportunities for staff to maintain their health, wellbeing and safety.
  • To engage staff in decisions that affect them.

Staff employed by the NHS on the 1st of September each year are invited to take part in the survey. It has a flexible methodology being both online and available in paper format. Individual organisations decide the sample size; some choose to survey a sample of staff, whereas others conduct a full census. The survey responses are collected between September and November each year.

In 2020, the NHS experienced a year like never before, making it more important than ever to ask and act upon staff feedback. On top of the core questionnaire’s standard items, a Covid-19 specific module was added, asking staff about their experiences of working through the pandemic: what worked well and what lessons could be learned. There are several optional modules, and some organisations have also chosen to include their own local questions.

Common questions/concerns about the NHS Staff Survey

There are common questions/concerns we repeatedly hear about the survey.

“It’s not fair to compare us with the whole of the rest of the NHS; different organisations have different challenges.”

In all final reports, whether these are your NHS England or your Picker contractor reports, we only make comparisons between your organisation and similar organisations. If your organisation is a mental health trust, you will only be compared to other mental health trusts.

“It’s only the people who complain who fill in the survey”, or similarly, “It’s only the happy people who fill in the survey”.

There is no evidence of this. However, this is also a reason why we offer your results in comparison to your past data and other organisations. If you see differences, you need to consider why the negative people (for example) responded this year, but not last year? Why did the positive people respond for your trust but not other similar organisations? This would not be the case, there must be something happening that is different.

“the NHS Staff Survey feedback is different from other sources of monitoring information”.

Sometimes people find that different sources of information provide conflicting insight. For example, maybe a low percentage of people report that they had an appraisal, but internal audits indicate that most staff did in the last year. It’s important to remember that this is a staff perception study, ie how staff perceived their reality. Perhaps they didn’t consider the tick box exercise they did 11 months ago to be an appraisal. You will need to explore where there are any apparent inconsistencies. Dismissing staff concerns because other data suggests something else will be counterproductive; more information is usually the key, not less.

“It’s not confidential” / “My boss will see everything that I write”.

This has been a concern of staff since the survey’s inception. We recommend that you emphasise that external approved contractors carry out the survey. A trust will never see the raw data; it is always presented in an aggregated form. It can also be useful to share the reports that you receive with staff. This is a great way to encourage engagement with the survey and any improvement activities, and can also demystify the reporting and demonstrate confidentiality.

Each year contractors send trust’s their results in December, and the National data is released later. The National results of the NHS Staff Survey 2020 were released on the 11th of March here.

Watch the video of this blog, along with further information about the NHS Staff Survey.

Should you have any further questions please contact Insight@PickerEurope.ac.uk.

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