How the NHS Staff Survey results highlight the crucial role of workforce planning


By Skills for Health | 13 March 2024

We sat down with our Principal Workforce Development Consultant, Jon Freegard, to discuss some of the key results from the annual 2023 NHS Staff Survey, published 7 March 2024, which highlighted the importance of workforce planning.  


The National Health Service (NHS) stands as a cornerstone of healthcare in the UK, providing vital services to hundreds of millions of people every year. Behind the scenes, the success of the NHS hinges on the dedication, competence, availability, and wellbeing of its workforce.  

In this article, we delve into the findings of the NHS staff survey and explore how they emphasise the importance and need of workforce planning. 

Insights from the NHS Staff Survey 

The recent 2023 NHS Staff Survey provides a snapshot of the prevailing sentiments among healthcare professionals on a national level. As a Workforce Planning Consultant, there are several insights that really stood out to me and merit further exploration.  

Staffing Adequacy 

32.40% of respondents reported having enough staff at their organisation to perform their duties adequately. This highlights a significant perceived shortfall in workforce availability, potentially leading to increased workload burdens. Demand is outstripping capacity, and whilst this is known nationally, these results accentuate the very real impact this is having on the day-to-day working of thousands of colleagues across the NHS. 

Time Pressures  

73.75% report that they have unrealistic time pressures. This pervasive issue not only affects staff well-being but also puts the quality of care delivered at risk, highlighting the urgent need for workload prioritisation and resource allocation. The case for radical use of technology is growing as the workforce availability lags far behind demand. 

Pay Satisfaction 

Despite a modest improvement from previous years, only 31.23% of respondents expressed satisfaction with their level of pay. The link between pay and staff recruitment and retention are evident, emphasising the importance of compensation packages. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan notes that in 2022, one of the most common reasons for leaving the NHS was pay and reward. It’s imperative that we don’t continue down this path. Recognition and reward need to continue to be a focus of priority. Policy makers would do well to recognise this as a driver for the success of the Long Term Workforce Plan. 

Professional Development 

Encouragingly, the survey revealed improvements in staff perceptions regarding opportunities for professional development, with 70.8% reporting access to opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. Investing in continuous learning and career advancement opportunities will aid a greater level of staff satisfaction and retention.  

Retention Concerns 

Nearly a third of respondents (29.12%) admitted to frequently considering leaving their current position. The majority expressed commitment to their roles. Addressing factors such as pay, workload, and how these factors can positively influence organisational culture can help reduce retention concerns and foster a more stable workforce, with sustainable levels of turnover.  

The imperative of effective workforce planning 

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan outlines where the problems arise – we have an aging population with complex health needs and a lack of a sufficient workforce in both numbers and skills. The survey results confirm what we know. If these aren’t addressed quickly and effectively, we’ll see deepening impacts on patient experience, service capacity and productivity.  

The focus is on three key pillars: train, retain, and reform. The goal is to cultivate a skilled workforce, foster a supportive work environment to retain staff, and implement reforms to optimise training and service delivery. It serves as an opportunity to “put staffing on a sustainable footing and improve patient care”.  

Yet from the findings of the 2023 NHS Staff Survey, show there is still a way to go. The NHS workforce is feeling under pressure in their roles, that  there aren’t enough people in post to be able to perform their duties accordingly and the majority are dissatisfied with their pay. This may paint a bleak outlook; however, there are significant opportunities to improve not just for the present, but the future of the healthcare workforce.   

The findings underscore the critical role of workforce planning in addressing systemic challenges and enhancing staff well-being and organisational performance. Strategic workforce planning activities should prioritise the following areas: 

  • Integration: Connect any plan to address local-level survey results with your existing workforce plans. The workforce will not benefit from isolated one-off initiatives, however tempting it may be to jump to action. Any ideas that arise from the survey results must be delivered in sync with your existing strategies. View the survey results as a significant data input into your workforce plans. What is it telling you about actions you have undertaken already or have planned? Are things working as you expected, or do you need a rethink? 
  • Staffing levels: if the aim is to ensure adequate staffing levels to meet patient needs and alleviate workload pressures, start by acknowledging the problem. Are your existing workforce plans realistic? Are the recruitment plans likely to succeed? If not, you need to consider alternative options to deliver the service. These may include new roles, redistribution of tasks or the introduction of technology. 
  • Workload optimisation: everyday thousands of dedicated teams of people get the job done. But is it achieved in the most efficient way? Consider all measures to address inefficiencies. Time in motion studies, processes and policies can all influence how people work. Speak to staff and work with them in those priority areas to address unrealistic time pressures and promote a healthy work-life balance for staff. 
  • Recognition and reward: enhance efforts to recognise and reward staff contributions, fostering a culture of appreciation and motivation. Within this, review and where possible adjust pay structures, and define and communicate your total reward package to remain competitive and improve staff satisfaction and retention. 
Get in touch

Skills for Health are leading workforce development experts. We have worked with most NHS trusts and healthcare organisations in the UK to develop, create and manage workforce plans using our nationally recognised Six Steps Methodology to Integrated Workforce Planning®. Get in touch today to find out more about our services.  


Tam Whipp joins Skills for Health as a Technical Consultant 

Why the NHS Needs Workforce Planning More Than Ever 

Laura Schell appointed as Skills for Health Client Director 

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