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How Patients Can Solve NHS Staff Morale Crisis

22/11/2016 11:48

"NHS staff morale is at an all-time low" - it's a headline we read in the media or see on social media time and again. We heard it after Mid Staffs, we read it during the junior doctors' dispute and underlined the recent General Medical Council annual report, which found that poor morale among doctors could put patients at risk. And we've seen similar messages in relation to nurses, with the Royal College of Nursing saying morale has 'dropped through the floor'.

Yet I'd hedge my bets that those of you who've recently visited your GP or been treated by a nurse in hospital received compassionate care from a highly professional individual dedicated to improving your care. Virtually everyone who works in the NHS decided to pursue a career in healthcare because they want to help and care for people. NHS staff represent the bedrock of the NHS - their morale is critical to the patient experience.

Whilst our doctors and nurses make life-changing differences to patients on a daily basis - often helping them get better or doing the little things that improve their experience - a strong body of evidence is telling us loud and clear that staff morale must improve. It's the job of NHS executives and managers to stop that from happening.

One of the most powerful tools that can boost staff morale is reminding doctors and nurses of the difference they make to people's lives. Many see healthcare reviews as a way for patients to highlight failings and criticise care - but in reality the opposite is true. GPs using iWantGreatCare, which is now the largest independent patient review website in the UK, resoundingly report that the majority of feedback from patients is positive. The most successful organisations strive for positive feedback - health providers should be no different.

Patient feedback should be used as a tool to boost staff morale in the NHS. Take Barts Health NHS Trust: within six months of implementing a patient feedback programme the Trust's Chief Executive, Alwen Williams, was able to demonstrate substantial improvements in staff morale. This included a 4% month-on-month fall in absenteeism, a reduction in the staff turnover rate, an improvement in staff engagement rates and a reduction in agency spend.

At a time when we are seeing staff morale in the NHS deteriorate - and targets for efficiency savings continue to spiral - improving staff morale would be a huge boost for the NHS. Even tiny reductions in absenteeism would save the NHS billions every year - recent estimates calculate potential savings at £2.4bn per year. NHS managers should think carefully about their staff - harnessing feedback about the compassion and care they deliver to patients every day patients will bring powerful benefits for your workforce, service users and your budgets.

Dr Neil Bacon is the founder and Chief Executive of iWantGreatCare

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