NHS HR chief Clare Chapman has called on managers to reform working practices to free up time to improve patient care.
The plea comes as half of NHS workers warned trusts were understaffed and employees felt they lacked sufficient time to do their jobs properly, according to the 2009 NHS staff survey.
Chapman said it “made a huge amount of sense” for trusts to redesign how nurses spent their time.
She told Personnel Today: “You can’t always assume that the right answer is to throw more people at it, often it’s redesigning the workplace and redesigning the work.
“Some trusts have redesigned the way teams work, and staff, particularly nurses, have been able to release significant amounts of time from administrative or logistical tasks so that they can invest time back in care.”
She added: “[Redesigning work] makes a huge amount of sense when you’re not getting a big increase in funding.”
NHS HR teams should also reinforce the message that effectively structured teams and regular communications would improve the working environment, Chapman said.
The survey, by the Care Quality Commission, recorded the highest-ever job satisfaction levels and nine in 10 employees felt they were making a difference to patients. However, many staff felt excluded from decision making and less than one-third were satisfied with the extent to which the trust values their work.
Chapman acknowledged “there is work to do”, but pointed out underperforming trusts would feel pressure to improve because the survey results would be made public for the first time – enabling patients to decide where they will be treated and staff where to work.
The survey, now in its seventh year, also showed one in six employees (17%) experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from their line manager or colleagues last year – down 1% from 2007 and 2008.
About 2% of staff said they suffered physical violence from other staff in 2009 – showing no improvement on 2008.
“The survey shows that staff feel they’re suffering the lowest level of abuse both from patients and from staff,” Chapman said. “You cannot possibly defend 17% [experiencing bullying, harassment or abuse] but what you can do is demonstrate that by taking action you can do something about it.”
Mike Jackson, deputy head of health at Unison, said the NHS had made “positive strides” in boosting staff morale and cutting violence and bullying.
“However, progress has been slow and Unison would like to see that progress stepped up a gear and staff given the time they need to do their jobs more effectively,” he said.