Patient outcomes will suffer if NHS human resources work is allowed to deteriorate during the current period of reform and cost-cutting, a government commissioned report has warned.

The importance of workforce management must not be forgotten, warn the authors of a study linking effective HR practices with lower mortality rates and improved patient satisfaction.

Researchers from the Aston University Business School, Lancaster University and the Work Foundation analysed hundreds of thousands of responses to the NHS staff survey from 2006-09 and compared them with performance indicators for NHS organisations.

They concluded that, as well as reducing staff turnover and absenteeism, a high level of staff engagement was key to improving patient outcomes.

One of the report’s authors, Jeremy Dawson, told HSJ: “We can’t forget about staff and making sure that staff experience remains of paramount importance. If in the course of the cuts and transformation of the NHS, staff experience is forgotten about, it will create problems.”

The report – NHS Staff Management and Health Service Quality – is the conclusion of a two-year study, commissioned by the Department of Health in 2009.

It found that organisations where staff reported regular, useful appraisals, relevant training and good support from line managers also had high levels of patient satisfaction, as measured by the national acute inpatient survey.

A 5 per cent increase in the proportion of staff reporting they worked in a well structured team was associated with a 3.6 per cent lower hospital standardised mortality ratio, while a 10 per cent increase in staff feeling they could contribute to improvements at work saw on average 0.57 fewer cases of MRSA per 10,000 bed days.

Researchers also found high levels of discrimination reported by black and minority ethnic staff members was an indication of other problems in a trust.

For example, in organisations with high levels of discrimination patients complained that doctors and nurses talked in front of them as if they were not there and they were not treated with respect and dignity.

Mr Dawson said: “Engagement is clearly linked to a wide variety of outcomes. 

“Although there are lots of different ways these can be explained, we constantly see the importance of management in the role of staff experience in terms of things like managing workloads, appraising staff and team working; these are the things that seem to engage staff and enable organisations to flourish.”