Kevan Christie: Jury still out on new NHS Scotland survey

The jury is still out on new improved NHS survey writes Kevan Christie.

According to the Scottish Government the annual NHS staff survey had been paused. Picture: PA Wire

The decision not to proceed with the 2016 NHS Scotland staff survey as reported by The Scotsman on Tuesday met with predictable online fury, amid claims of cover-up and accusations of the SNP trying to ‘silence’ health workers.
According to the Scottish Government, response earlier this week, the annual staff survey had been paused, and replaced by a shiny new system called iMatter – part of the Everyone Matters, 2020 Workforce Vision that will ‘measure staff experience in the best possible way and take action on staff feedback’.

However, there’s a slight problem in that in amongst the furiously spun responses – the iMatter system isn’t all that new and would appear to be already up and running. iMatter was first launched as a pilot back in 2013 with feedback indicating that initial levels of engagement had been higher than previous staff surveys.

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Literature on the NHS Scotland website from May 2015 under Frequently Asked Questions states – ‘iMatter is different from the national staff complements the staff survey by allowing you, in your teams, to understand the issues that matter most to you...’

The Scottish Government say that the success of iMatter led to partnership representatives, including trade unions recommending to Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison in October 2015 that she pause the staff survey to allow Boards to fully role out iMatter.

Originally, iMatter was never intended to replace the staff survey - but to run alongside it.

Up until Scottish Labour noticed the 2016 survey had not been published - it usually comes out in March of the following year, no-one from the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland or the health unions had thought to mention that it wouldn’t be going ahead. This doesn’t look good with the obvious perception whether fair or not, being a need to bury bad news. We all knew where we stood with the old staff survey system – NHS workers who had the time, ticked the boxes from strongly agree to strongly disagree, the results came back - with the media focusing on the worst of them. For instance the last one published in December 2015 found that 46 per cent of the 60,681 workers who took part said they were unable to do their jobs properly because they were overworked.

Despite this, the importance of publishing the NHS Scotland staff survey should not be downplayed. The NHS is a key battleground in any election and the Scottish Government have a duty to inform the taxpaying public of the current state of play in our hospitals and medical centres.

We are all invested in the welfare of its staff and there needs to be a high degree of transparency lacking at present.

An ageing population will only add to the problems of a health service already “creaking at the seams”.

It now looks likely that 2016 has been scrubbed from the records in terms of providing a snapshot of what life was like for NHS staff in Scotland. Will 2017 suffer the same fate? Who knows as it would appear no clear decision has been taken over this year’s staff survey and information from iMatter is not due out until January 2018 at the earliest. The 2015 staff survey recorded its largest ever response at 38 per cent – the highest in its 14-year history. Opinion was divided as to the ‘pausing’ with cost savings to be made by not running the 2016 survey but concerns raised about iMatter’s ability to provide staff anonymity. The Scottish Government and ‘stakeholders’ should be given the benefit of the doubt for now. It remains to be seen if a higher response rate from staff using iMatter will lead to improvement.