• Baroness Harding said national regulators are “encouraging the wrong kind of behaviour” from trusts
  • Says national workforce plan will look at whether regulation frameworks need to change to reflect staff wellbeing
  • Also said chief executives who think it is not their job to protect staff wellbeing should not be in post

National regulators are “encouraging the wrong kind of behaviour” by prioritising financial performance over staff wellbeing, the chair of NHS Improvement has said. 

Baroness Harding also says she holds a “hardcore view” that chief executives who don’t see their role as protecting the wellbeing of staff should not be in the job.

Speaking at the launch of the NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission report on Wednesday, she said: “I do think that in the past and probably right now there are incidences where the national regulators are encouraging the wrong kind of behaviour.

“I think we have to shift our focus to be more people-centred and recognise that most of the organisations have got financial and quality challenges have actually got underlining people challenges.

“The focus on so many financial regulations has encouraged some organisations to be penny wise and pound foolish. There is no doubt in my mind that not looking after your staff is the more expensive route.”

She added trusts were paying the price of poor staff retention and workplace culture through having to use costly locum and bank staff. She argued regulators may need to change current indicators to focus more on “staff wellbeing and culture”, as opposed to finance being the priority.

She added: “I think we can learn a lot by listening to our staff and people who complain, be that patients or carers and, if as a regulator, we build in those metrics, we will be able to shift some of those behaviours.”

Baroness Harding, who is leading the creation of the NHS’ new workforce plan, added her work would look into whether national regulation frameworks, such as the Care Quality Commission’s well-led review and the standard operating framework, needed to change.

Commenting on the report’s recommendation that every organisation should have a wellbeing guardian on its board, she said she took a “radical view”.

She said: “It is clear who the wellbeing guardians in every NHS organisation [are]. It’s the chief executive, and the chief executives that don’t think that their job is to protect the wellbeing of their staff shouldn’t be chief executives. I appreciate that that is quite a hardcore view.”

Baroness Harding also spoke of her shock at joining the NHS, expecting to find the ultimate caring organisation and instead finding one which lacked staff-centric policies.