Improving strained relationships between trust senior managers and staff is to become a top priority for the Department of Health.

The problem has emerged as one of the top three most pressing issues facing the NHS workforce in a study commissioned by the DH into staff attitudes.

The report, What Matters to Staff in the NHS, launched today by NHS workforce director general Clare Chapman, reveals that only 38 per cent of 32,000 staff surveyed felt senior managers were involved with their work.

Senior managers also scored badly on listening to staff and acting on feedback, being committed to patients, involving staff in decisions and working with clinical managers. By contrast, line managers were highly rated - echoing the findings of the national staff survey, published in April.

This was interpreted by unions as showing a “breakdown” in the relationshipbetween senior managers and staff. It states: “For the NHS to come alive, empowering patients and staff, local organisations will need to engage with and understand their patients, staff and the public.”

The other two most urgent priorities raised in the report are ensuring staff understand their roles and giving people the opportunity to develop their potential.

But the survey also found that managers - particularly senior managers - were consistently the most positive advocates of the NHS compared with those in non-managerial roles. And while the vast majority of staff - 91 per cent - agreed they had a worthwhile job that makes a difference to patients, only 37 per cent of people felt they were fairly treated in terms of pay, benefits and staff facilities.

The findings come as NHS chief executive David Nicholson is set to announce a national set of NHS values in a speech to the NHS Confederation annual conference today.

National NHS values

  • Compassion - finding the time to listen and understand.

  • Respect and dignity - treating people, whether patients or staff, as individuals.

  • Commitment to the basics - earning others’ trust by getting the essentials right.

  • Improving lives - striving to improve health, well-being and quality in the NHS through excellence and professionalism.

  • Pulling together - reaching out across organisations to work with each other: staff, patients, carers, families and communities.

  • Everyone counts - using resources for the benefit of all the community.