Every year, the NHS Staff Survey provides Trusts with invaluable insight into the engagement, motivation and concerns of their people. It measures the staff experience, providing data that can be used to improve local working conditions, and ultimately patient care, as well as enabling Trusts to benchmark themselves nationally.

However, the sheer size and complexity of the NHS Staff Survey means that there are four significant challenges to turning the insight it provides into useful, timely information that can be used to drive change:

1. Extended time to results

While each Trust runs its own fieldwork, which is normally completed by early December, it takes many months to receive their own results using traditional means. These may not be provided until April of the next year – leaving very little time to plan and implement changes before the next survey cycle begins again. This lag also means that data is not timely – issues being raised before December may have significantly worsened when results are received, leading to staff becoming disengaged and leaving. Knowing feedback earlier helps with faster action planning, and also gives insight into a Trust’s overall score, meaning it can ascertain whether it is in line for a CQUINs payment, based on year on year improvements. 

2. Data can be difficult to understand and action

To be valuable, information from the NHS Staff Survey needs to be presented in ways that make it easy for managers to understand, but in many cases it is provided as static charts and reports, rather than interactive, drill-down dashboards. It is also important that it is not analysed in isolation, and is linked to action planning. For example, Trusts need the ability to slice and dice results so that they can measure engagement within specific groups (such as nurses) or locations. Also, to close the loop, they should be able to launch follow up actions, for example creating a focus group if a specific issue is flagged by a majority of staff in a particular location, enabling a better understanding of the problem that allows it to be quickly fixed. 

3. A lack of engagement from staff

Participation in the Survey is not compulsory for staff, meaning Trusts have to work hard to ensure that the maximum number of people respond. For example, in 2016, out of the 982,000 staff who were invited to share their views, 44% (423,000) actually filled in questionnaires, with response rates varying dramatically between Trusts.

To drive greater engagement Trusts need to move away from the traditional, paper-only approach to collecting data, providing the ability for staff to complete the survey securely through their own PCs, smartphones or tablets, as well as through shared work devices. By creating a better, easier survey experience more staff will be encouraged to give their opinions, providing a more representative view of engagement within each Trust.

4. Cost and complexity

Providing all staff with access to paper-based surveys is a logistically complex process, taking up a great deal of time and resource. Because of this, many Trusts survey a representative sample of those that work in the organisation. While this delivers some insight, NHS England is encouraging Trusts to move to census approach that surveys all staff, in order to gain more comprehensive picture. Extending the survey is only possible if fieldwork costs are reduced by moving away from paper-only processes to digital channels that increase efficiency and bring down costs.

To gain maximum value from the NHS Staff Survey, Trusts need to look at how they run, analyse and act on the findings. And with preparations now starting for this year’s version, they should focus on overcoming the four challenges above by adopting more modern, faster solutions that give them greater understanding of engagement levels and enable faster, more lasting change.

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