Mirror claims NHS staff work 11 hours unpaid overtime on average but it’s probably more like two hours

22 July 2020
What was claimed

NHS staff do 11 hours a week unpaid overtime on average.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The NHS staff survey suggests NHS staff in England do around two hours unpaid overtime on average, but even this figure should be taken with a pinch of salt.

“NHS Heroes forced to work for free. Poll reveals staff do an average 11 hrs extra a week unpaid… & that was before virus.”

Daily Mirror front page, 20 July 2020

On Monday the Mirror’s front page claimed that the average NHS worker does 11 hours overtime per week. 

The claim is incorrect. 

The 2019 NHS staff survey for England suggests that the average respondent did around two hours unpaid overtime per week, but even this figure is not exact. 

The survey asked respondents how many unpaid hours they did in excess of their contracted hours. The answer options were “0 hours”, “up to 5 hours”, “6 – 10 hours” and “11 or more hours.”

Only 3% of respondents said they did 11 or more hours of unpaid work per week, but this is what the Mirror reported as the average overtime. 

We can’t say exactly what the average overtime is for a few reasons. 

Firstly, we don’t know if the results are representative of NHS workers overall. The survey was sent to around 1.2 million people, but only around half (540,000 people) answered this question and it’s possible that there were differences in the amount of overtime worked between the people that did and didn’t respond. 

For example, it’s plausible that people busy with lots of overtime did not have time to complete the survey, and so may have worked more overtime than those that did complete the survey. 

Secondly, respondents didn’t give their exact overtime, but had to pick one of the answer ranges stated above. That means it’s hard to work out a true average. 

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), with the “11 or more hours” category being 11 hours exactly, then the average overtime among respondents is around two hours. But it could be slightly higher or lower.

Finally, staff were only asked how much unpaid overtime they worked. Arguably it’s also important to consider how many hours staff considered they were working under their contracted hours, if any, in order to understand whether, on average, NHS staff are overworked.

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