Does Good HR Save Lives?

Main Image

Members of the HCSA will be very familiar with the principles of evidence based health care. Evidence and research underpins professional and clinical practise. So it won’t be a surprise to recognise that good HR practise (that is basically good people management) is underpinned by evidence and research.

This is particularly the case in terms of human resources in healthcare. In fact there is a plethora of enlightening evidence that shows, in particular that good HR and good people management leads to improved patient outcomes, and in particular improved patient mortality in acute care.

This sounds obvious – if people feel they are managed well, that their work is rewarded and, in effect individual employees feel valued and supported, then fewer patients die, and more patients get better care.

This perspective has been reinforced over my career in senior HR work in the NHS, and previously as a full time official representing health and care staff in the UK. I was reminded of the importance of this research on joining the HCSA team only recently. The challenges and problems facing senior clinicians working in the front line of the NHS would be eased if the working environment was improved.

The impact of work related stress, financial pressures, workload pressures, poor levels of engagement and difficult work relationships – these are all elements of our work that can be eased and helped if employers took action to change cultures and improve our working lives.

One of the leading academics in this area of HR research is Professor Michael West, whose work at Aston University and now at the University of Lancaster has highlighted some of the lessons for employers in the NHS. Professor West and his team reviewed (over a number of years) the data produced by the annual staff surveys*. Researchers also compared this data to other NHS metrics, including patient surveys, patient mortality data and other research and came up with some interesting conclusions.

In particular, the research points to two areas in particular – effective team working and appraisal.

What the evidence shows:

  • Improvement in appraisal associated with a reduction of 12.3% of the number of deaths after hip fracture
  • 25% more staff working in teams associated with 275 fewer deaths per 100,000 following emergency surgery or 7.1% of the total number of deaths following emergency surgery

Professor West and his team describe staff working in teams and pseudo teams (that is they think it’s a team but its not really functioning as a team):

  • Teams as opposed to pseudo teams
  • Data from employees themselves
  • A 10% increase in “real” teams is associated with a 3.1% drop in patient mortality
  • In an average hospital, this is over 40 deaths per year

The diagram below is my own personal suggested picture of the impact of effective people management and staff engagement, this is just a brief summary of fairly extensive research and work around this very important area.


Impact Of Effective People Management

Impact Of Effective People Management 2


Rob Quick
Regional Officer HCSA, Chartered Fellow CIPD MSc HRM

*West et al,2001 International Journal of HRM
*West, Guthrie, Dawson, 2006 Journal of Organisational Behaviour



As a nurse I have seen first hand over the last 10 years how the NHS has changed for the worse. What is ndeeed is to stop the blame game and to start looking forward. Most managers in the NHS are good at their jobs but are restricted in a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.The NHS has changed dramatically from its original purpose and thats a great thing, but staff everywhere are feeling de motivated and put upon, to the point of near burn out.The NHS is in drastic need of reform but the way in which its gone about is completly wrong, cuts are made on a reactive basis without the concequences being considered whilst obvious ways to save and even bring in revenue are ignored because they dont have immediate results.We almost need to wipe the slate clean and start again. Managers front line staff and patients of all professions within the NHS need to be involved from cleaners to paramedics, Doctors and Managers and Nurses and HCAs as well as the patients and politicians and this needs to be a process without political gain, impossible I know but I can dream!
July 1, 2014 01:17

I manage chdrilen's community services, that work with chdrilen who have significant levels of disability and their families. Most GPs have only one or two of these chdrilen on their caseloads in their whole careers much of their complex care is taken on by community paediatricians. It worries me greatly that these services will continue to be cinderella services' under GP commissioning, struggling to compete with the stronger call of care for adults with coronary heart disease, cancer etc. It has taken time for us to develop the relationship with our current health commissioners to a level where there is a good understanding of the needs of these chdrilen and it grieves me to think that we will have to start over. I agree with others that it is time for the Government and the media to stop the campaign against managers in the NHS. I've worked for the NHS for 23 years, the first 15 as a clinician in the area of care I now manage and with the chdrilen I am now advocating for with commissioners. It is my commitment to improving the services available to these vulnerable chdrilen and their families that keeps me in this post and that commitment is what I see in most of my colleagues.
June 30, 2014 09:12

Comment Form


All Categories