• Government, including 10 Downing Street, has discussed plan with NHSE/I
  • Concerns within NHS about feasibility
  • Hancock says NHS People Plan will include “range of ways to improve [NHS] morale”

Number 10 has encouraged NHS leaders to introduce a new staff morale tracker — potentially to report every month — and is likely to pursue the plan if Boris Johnson remains in power, HSJ has learned. 

Several well-placed sources have confirmed to HSJ that the government, including 10 Downing Street advisers, has been in discussion in recent months with NHS England/Improvement about a new regular survey of staff morale.

HSJ understands there are concerns among NHS officials about how feasible it is, especially if it is to be carried out monthly.

Asked whether the government had plans for a new way of tracking NHS morale, health secretary Matt Hancock told HSJ: “We are looking at a range of ways in which to improve morale for all NHS staff as part of the upcoming NHS People Plan, which is due to be published shortly after the general election.”

One source told HSJ they understood the morale tracker proposal had been raised at a meeting between Dominic Cummings, senior adviser to Boris Johnson, and NHSE/I chief executive Simon Stevens. The source said there was “an agreement to explore monthly tracking, with the aim of showing month-on-month improvements in morale”.

It comes as the Conservative party election manifesto said it wanted to “improve [NHS] staff morale with more funding for professional training and more supportive hospital management”.

The “People Plan” programme, led by NHSI chair Baroness Dido Harding, is looking at a range of actions aimed at “making the NHS the best place to work” and “improving the leadership culture”, to improve retention and recruitment, but it is not known whether it has looked into the proposed new “morale tracker”. NHSE/I want to publish the People Plan early next year.

Sources familiar with discussions about the proposed indicator said monthly tracking would be very hard to implement in a way that is properly representative of staff.

Alternatives which have been considered include widening the questions on the existing quarterly, mandatory “staff friends and family test” to include one or more on morale; or to run a separate quarterly survey on the topic. Any option could place a new collection burden on providers.

Another major question which will need to be addressed is what services would be covered — would it be all NHS trusts and foundations, for example, or would GP practices and independent providers also be covered?

In October, the government announced a new mental health support service for doctors working in the NHS — although this sparked criticism that non-medics would not be covered.

Mr Hancock told HSJ the Conservatives were “committed to looking into implementing mental health support for all NHS staff” as part of the People Plan.

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment, citing purdah. NHSE was approached for comment.