Labour's claim on NHS overtime: a plausible estimate
On Friday, the Guardian reported Labour Party research which found that “NHS staff are working over a million hours a week of unpaid overtime”.
The findings are based on data from the NHS staff survey, the most recent edition of which was published in February 2019, and Labour shared their calculations with us.
Based on what we’ve seen, it’s very much plausible that staff typically work a million hours of unpaid overtime a week collectively, but the data doesn’t show it definitively. These million hours would be spread between hundreds of thousands of NHS staff working a number of hours overtime per week.
Almost 463,000 staff responded to the question “On average, how many additional UNPAID hours do you work per week for this organisation, over and above your contracted hours?”
42% said 0 hours, 44% said up to 5 hours, 10% said 6-10 hours, and 4% said 11 or more hours.
If you assume that staff typically worked the average amount of overtime within the range they selected (so 8 hours for those who answered 6-10 hours, for example), this comes to roughly 1.1 million hours of unpaid overtime a week.
But that’s a broad-brush assumption and we can’t be certain that’s the case. If you were more cautious and assumed staff worked at the lower end of those ranges, it would show staff working about 670,000 hours unpaid a week
Nevertheless, the data certainly suggests it’s plausible that over one million hours of unpaid overtime are worked a week.
It’s also important to remember that this survey was answered by 46% of the 1.1 million staff to whom it was sent out (and of those who answered, 93% answered the unpaid overtime question). So it won’t reveal the full extent of unpaid overtime within the NHS in England.
We also don’t know whether those who answered the survey are representative of the rest of the wider NHS, or whether they did significantly more, or less, unpaid overtime than others.