Indicator update summary: NHS and social care workforce

A round-up of our latest indicator updates.

Indicator update

Published: 26/05/2017

This month’s indicator update covers the results from the 2016 NHS Staff Survey as well as data regarding the state of the adult social care workforce.

NHS staff

The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world. Its 1.2 million staff in England and Wales care for one million patients every 36 hours (NHS Choices, 2016). As well as relying on adequate resources, the ability of the service to deliver safe, patient-centred care is dependent upon having a healthy and satisfied workforce. High levels of health and wellbeing amongst staff can bring significant benefits to patients and workers alike, including:

  • Improved patient safety (DoH, 2009)
  • Improved patient experience of care and higher levels of patient satisfaction (NHS Employers, 2013)
  • Lower rates of sickness absence, higher productivity and staff retention (NHS Employers, 2013)
  • Improved morale, job satisfaction and wellbeing (DoH, 2009)

The Department of Health has made significant efforts to improve health and wellbeing amongst staff. In 2011, it published the NHS Constitution. The Constitution defines what the NHS expects from staff and what staff can expect from NHS employers. One pledge is to provide support and opportunities to staff so they can maintain their health, wellbeing and safety. In addition to the Constitution, in 2015, the Chief Executive of NHS England announced a drive to improve the health and wellbeing of staff.

In the update for this month we have analysed the latest results from the 2016 NHS Staff Survey. The survey was sent to just under one million staff in over 300 NHS organisations. Of these, over 400,000 staff responded, the highest response rate to date (44%) (NHS Employers, 2017). Overall, the results from the survey show NHS staff continuing to manage despite pressures. Some key positive findings from the survey demonstrate improvements in:

  • Staff motivation
  • Willingness to recommend the NHS as a place to work or be cared for
  • Manager support
  • Staff health and wellbeing

In relation to violence and harassment, the survey showed the percentage of staff who experienced physical violence from patients or relatives in the past 12 months decreased slightly from 15.5% in 2012 to 15.1% in 2016. Staff in ambulance trusts (32.1%) and mental health & learning disability trusts (20.9%) were the most likely to report experiencing violence. This is probably due to the nature of the patients these staff treat.

Social care workforce

As the number of elderly people and those with chronic conditions increases so too does the need for a well-staffed adult social care workforce. If the workforce grows in line with the population of people aged 65 and over then the number of social care jobs will increase by around 20% by 2025. This will take number of social care jobs available in local authority and the independent close to 2 million (Skills for Care, 2016).

In this month’s update we’ve analysed the latest figures from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC). The NMDS-SC is a workforce data collection system for the adult social care sector and a key source of information on the size and structure of the sector. As of September 2016, there were 112,800 adult social services jobs in councils in England. Since 2011, the number of social service council jobs has fallen by 46,600 – a 29% fall.

In 2016, levels of sickness absence remained relatively similar to preceding years. The median number of sickness days per employee has varied little since 2011, at about one per year, aside from 2013, when it increased to 1.5 days. The average (mean) number of sickness days per employee is a lot higher than the median however, and stood at 10.5 days. This disparity is likely explained by a small group of staff taking a disproportionately large number of sickness days: 7% of staff took over 40 days off with sickness in 2016, for example.


National Health Service and social care providers are facing rising demand in a time of austerity, yet staff continue to deliver high standards of care. However, these increased pressures can have real consequences for staff health and wellbeing, as demonstrated by data from the 2016 NHS Staff Survey and NMDS-SC.

The NHS Constitution is a clear commitment from the Department of Health to build a more satisfied workforce. Given the important role happy and healthy employees play in facilitating high quality care it is encouraging to see such support. Despite improvements in staff wellbeing, areas of concern remain, with levels of violence against staff being one example.

For adult social care, the declining number of jobs available in local authorities in England means the independent sector is playing an increasingly crucial role. Continuing to monitor the latest levels of sickness absence in adult social care could offer vital insight into this increasingly pressurised sector.