Staff Experience in the NHS - leading the routes to retention

Hear more about what was discussed at our Staff Experience in the NHS conference 2023 around the key theme of improving staff retention.

5 December 2023

Retention of our NHS people is a top priority for employers and a key ambition of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. Our Staff Experience in the NHS conference 2023 explored how creating a positive workplace experience for staff is central to any efforts to improve retention, as well as helping ensure staff can deliver quality patient care. 

Through a full-day programme of live speaker sessions, good-practice masterclasses, Q & As, practical workshops, and networking and reflection time, our conference delved into what good work looks like in 2023 and beyond. 

We discussed ideas and approaches on how to better support employees in the workplace, and practical measures employers can take to help staff remain and thrive in the NHS. We also focused on the key role of NHS leaders in ensuring staff experience is at the forefront of strategic priorities and everyday practice in NHS organisations.   

Conference session summaries

Find out more about the key themes and issues discussed in each of the main stage sessions summarised below. 

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Freedom to speak up: Nurturing a psychologically safe workplace in the NHS   

This session explored the role of leaders and practitioners in implementing a psychologically safe workplace in the NHS. Led by Katherine Bradshaw, national lead for communications and engagement at the National Guardians Office and John Walsh, OD lead and freedom to speak up guardian at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, it highlighted the importance of ensuring speaking up and listening up is everybody’s business - wherever they work and whatever their role - and discussed how this approach supports overall staff retention.  

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Staff experience in the NHS: routes to retention   

Our flagship session looked at improving staff experience in the round to drive progress on the retention asks in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. We heard from Caroline Waterfield, Director of Development and Employment at NHS Employers and Dr Ronke Akerele, Director of Culture and Transformation at NHS England about the work being carried out nationally to support employers with local initiatives. In an interactive workshop format, delegates shared learning on approaches to retention and ideas for action. These findings will help inform NHS Employers work on retention in 2024.  

A specially designed visual summarising key talking points from our flagship session can be viewed here.   

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Driving improvement in NHS staff experience: trusts and systems in action  

This masterclass session heard from United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) and Black Country Integrated Care Board - which have achieved impressive improvements in NHS Staff Survey scores across their staff experience agenda. Catherine Smith outlined ULHT's focus on flexible working and the positive workplace culture change this has created. While Shajeda Ahmed spoke about 'Be Well Midlands' - an innovative systems approach to driving improvements across all elements of the NHS People Promise and the positive effects this had on staff survey results.  

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Improving sexism, misogyny and sexual safety in the NHS 

Dr Becky Cox and Dr Chelcie Jewitt, co-founders of Surviving in Scrubs shared their lived experience of these issues and how you can get involved in their national campaign advocating for change in healthcare. We heard the latest evidence and research highlighting the impact of sexual misconduct in health and social care from leading Professor Rosalind Searle. Damian McGuinness, Chief People Officer at The London Ambulance Service, also shared his trust's journey to take positive action against this issue, including how they sought commitment and buy-in from senior leaders and navigated challenges along the way.  

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The future of Retention in the NHS - what does the Long Term Workplace Plan ask of staff experience practitioners?  

In our final keynote session, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer was joined in conversation by NHS England chief workforce, training and education officer Dr Navina Evans. Drawing on their collective expertise, Navina and Danny looked ahead to what the future of retention looks like in the NHS, exploring opportunities and challenges on the horizon. They explored how NHS staff experience practitioners can work collaboratively to realise the ambitions set out with the NHS Long Term Workplace plan. 

Breakout sessions 

Delegates were invited to join one of five breakout sessions on the day, providing an interactive forum for sharing ideas and practical solutions with others around the following themes.

Getting the basics of wellbeing right 

This interactive workshop highlighted the importance of ensuring the basics of wellbeing, such as rest, breaks, food and hydration, are in place for staff, and why this is crucial for staff to be able to feel physically and psychologically supported at work. The session sparked passionate discussions about the importance of meeting these basic needs and how we can work together to make a difference to workforce infrastructure and conditions.  

Session resources:   

Boosting the effectiveness of your teams by enhancing teamworking 

In this breakout session we heard from Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust on how and why they implemented the DoOD  TEAM toolkit into their organisation’s working practices. They shared their journey to improving team effectiveness and team working, highlighting what worked well, what may not have worked for them and the impact it has had on their trust.  

A data led approach to improving staff experience and staff engagement

This session explored how to understand and use staff experience data from the NHS Staff Survey to improve staff experience and staff engagement. The session shared work from an acute NHS Trust which has developed an analytical tool that helps identify where to target interventions for most impact. In particular the session shared ideas on use of data to support improved retention.  

Getting your board on board with staff experience  

During this session we heard from Caroline Haynes, Chief People Officer at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust who shared insights on the importance of board buy in for your staff experience agenda: how to achieve it and how to maintain it. Caroline shared steps you can take and the benefits you can gain from board buy in, alongside her top tips. #

Session resources:

Making retention happen – from aspiration to action

In this session we heard how two trusts - Buckinghamshire Healthcare and University Hospitals Birmingham - have taken a collaborative approach to improving staff experience. We discussed the challenges faced when implementing new staff experience strategies and how working collaboratively drove this agenda forward. Through delegate discussion, we addressed the starting point for this work and the importance of focusing on retention throughout. 

New retention resources

We published a range of new resources for the conference, aiming to support workforce leaders and staff experience practitioners in addressing the retention challenge.

You'll find all of these on our retention web page, which highlights the key areas we know contribute to providing good work and supporting staff to remain in the NHS.

Explore our staff experience, retention and attraction resources.

Recognising homelessness 

As part of the conference we also launched our new online resource highlighting the issue of staff homelessness due to the rising cost of living. Our short video features the great work taking place at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust to support staff who may be experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing in-work homelessness.

See the new resource on tackling staff homelessness, or watch the short video below.

Tackling homelessness at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust