The NHS Staff Survey: a snapshot of a health service in crisis

Only one in five NHS physiotherapists in England believe they have enough colleagues to do their job properly

NHS’ annual staff experience survey [John Gomez/Alamy Stock Photo]

This is one of many stark findings from the latest release of the NHS’ annual staff experience survey.  The England-only project heard from 1.3 million staff in 2021, with responses from all NHS trusts. 

Health researchers are particularly alarmed with the steep declines in staff satisfaction that occurred between 2020 and 2021.  

For example, in 2020 36.6 per cent of physiotherapists indicated they had enough colleagues to adequately do their role – with this figure declining by over 14 percentage points in just one year. 

Similar rapid declines in staff satisfaction are seen across the results:

  • Only 33.3 per cent of physiotherapy respondents indicated being able to meet all the conflicting demands on their time at work in 2021 – a reduction of over seven percentage points from 2020.
  • The number of physiotherapy respondents reporting having adequate materials, supplies and equipment to do their work declined from 52.5 per cent to 46.4 per cent over the same period.

Downward trends are also seen with physiotherapy support staff - who generally report worse experiences than their registered colleagues, and whose data is grouped together with other NHS support staff in the published results. 

What is clear from all this is that the current staffing crisis in the NHS is creating an increasingly unsafe environment – both for CSP members and your patients.   

Only 35% of physiotherapy staff are satisfied with their level of pay

In 2021, the number of physiotherapists reporting being satisfied with the quality of their organisation’s patient care stood at only 68.9 per cent: down from 74.9 per cent in 2020.  While 45.9 per cent of physiotherapy respondents indicated they had experienced work-related stress in 2021.  

Change is needed now – at both the national and local level

The survey adds weight to the CSP and health care unions’ evidence to the independent Pay Review Body (PRB) – which makes recommendations to government about pay rates.

In our evidence submitted earlier in 2022, we argued an inflation busting pay rise is needed to avoid the current staffing crisis becoming a permanent feature across the NHS. 

The latest staff survey data indicate that only 35 per cent of physiotherapy respondents are satisfied with their level of pay. And, three in 10 physiotherapy staff now often think about leaving their employer – with careers outside of the NHS increasingly identified by leavers as their most likely destination.

We are now ensuring the PRB assesses the staff survey’s 2021 data, despite it being published outside of the normal evidence-gathering schedule.

CSP members can also organise locally, using the survey results to force change at their trust.

The ‘interactive dashboard’ provided on the survey’s website lets anyone examine national results. You can drill down on distinct questions and benchmark results for specific trusts, and look at differences between occupational groups.

It is useful then to examine these data, and work with your CSP stewards and safety reps to identify if and where you employer is failing its staff – as NHS organisations should routinely develop and implement action plans where benchmarking shows their results deviate from other regional employers.

One area to look at could be flexible working. Despite national changes to the NHS contract to incentivise flexible working, the number of physiotherapists nationwide who are pleased with their opportunities for flexible working patterns actually dropped in the latest data – with many individual employers seeing larger drops.  Members should examine their trust’s survey data to push for new policies, guidance and cultural change that are in line with the new ambitions of the national contract.

This workplace influencing can be progressed through trusts’ staff councils.  In addition, organisational equality, diversity and inclusion committees should also be proactively analysing these latest data – particularly as the Staff Survey is essential to the NHS’ core Workforce Race Equality Standard. 

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