Last reviewed 29 October 2013

Care minister Norman Lamb has announced the launch of an independent review that will look at options for supporting employee voices and their stake in NHS organisations, to strengthen staff engagement in the health service.

The King’s Fund chief executive Professor Chris Ham will lead the review, and be supported by an independent panel of experts from healthcare and other sectors who believe that evidence shows that good staff engagement can improve performance and lead to higher-quality patient care.

It will make its recommendations to the Government by April 2014.

The hospital sector will be a key focus but the review will also look at primary and community care and relationships with social care, and consider models such as social enterprises and mutual organisations. It will identify barriers preventing some NHS providers from engaging and empowering staff, outline good practice within the NHS and other sectors, and recommend how this can be adopted throughout the NHS.

After last year’s publication of the think tank’s report Leadership and Engagement for Improvement in the NHS: Together We Can, Professor Ham wrote in a King’s Fund blog: “In a human service organisation like the NHS, the experience of patients is directly affected by the skills, attitudes and behaviours of staff... Engaged staff are those who are well led, with the leaders of frontline teams having a particularly important role in creating a climate in which staff feel empowered.”

This report concluded that action at all levels was needed to make staff engagement a reality, including a commitment to the training and development of clinical staff in leadership skills from early in their careers.

Professor Ham also authored a report with Jo Ellins in 2009, for the Nuffield Trust, entitled NHS Mutual: Engaging Staff and Aligning Incentives to Achieve Higher Levels of Performance. It suggests five ways in which employee ownership in the NHS might be fostered, including employee-owned community health services and social enterprise models.

Cabinet office minister Francis Maude said public service mutuals were now appearing all over the country, with around 80 mutuals delivering over £1 billion of public services. He added: “With some of the better established mutual businesses, the health sector already showcases the benefits of giving staff a say in the running of their organisation.”

The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, Civitas, has been advocating a larger role for mutualism in the NHS for a long time. Healthcare reform researcher Elliot Bidgood’s report, After Francis: Standards and Care Quality in the NHS, highlighted that non-profit NHS social enterprises tended to perform better than other NHS organisations on the friends and family test, according to data from the 2012 NHS Staff Survey, and in some areas non-profit GP co-operatives have provided out-of-hours GP and NHS 111 services where public or private providers failed.