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All staff should unite to stop bullying in the NHS

One in five NHS employees have experienced bullying in the last year, said yet another survey into the difficulties of working in the NHS. Our first reaction to this is to wonder if two in five are too scared to respond honestly to the survey while the other two didn’t hear the question properly.

Bullying has always confused us, hasn’t it? That an organisation that exists to deliver health and wellbeing can construct such destructive relationships among its staff.

It can make them feel threatened, disempowered and even afraid. And being a health service it often does it with a smile. The psychic equivalent of giving you a head massage before hitting you with a cricket bat.

We know bullying comes in many forms. From the aggressive healthcare support worker who takes a dislike to alternate students, to the inadequate consultant who treats everyone like they are his butler. And we know staff can feel bullied regardless of their position and that it is insidious. It damages services and dehumanises us all.

‘Bullying in an organisation that exists to deliver wellbeing is the psychic equivalent of giving you a head massage before hitting you with a cricket bat’

So it is helpful to be reminded by various reports that bullying happens and it should not be tolerated. However, don’t we also need to be aware of how the NHS creates the perfect circumstances for institutional bullying? Because it’s not just about people being unkind or careless and it’s not just about the nature and intensity of the work. It is often about politics, pressure and the threat to jobs and services, and it would be hypocritical not to acknowledge that.

At a time when political parties are preparing us for spending cuts, those who work in public services are left bracing themselves for anything from near impossible working conditions to redundancy. That generates insecurity and defensiveness. What sort of culture is it that offers a choice of working in near impossible conditions or risk losing your job? Where nervous senior managers manage the demands that come from above them rather than the needs of those they oversee? It is a bullying culture. One that leaves nurses and others exposed to the machinations of managerialism and the nonsense that is the internal market.

Everyone - regardless of grade or banding - is going to feel under pressure over the next couple of years. Nurses, doctors, managers, cleaners - all will be expected to make savings or sacrifices. They may even have to make choices that feel uncomfortable for a “greater good”, which has for too long been defined by politicians we neither respect nor trust. That is a bullying culture. The only way we can do anything about it is to begin to realise and articulate the fact we are all - doctors, nurses, cleaners and managers - bound not by the restraints of public spending but by our responsibility to best practice, innovation, high standards and professionalism.

Maybe it’s time to forget the false divides of banding, profession or job title and unite around a willingness to defend services together? The best way to stop a bullying and corrosive culture must surely be to help each other do the right thing?

Readers' comments (37)

  • I have had to leave my post due to being bullied and harrassed by two senior members of staff. If that hasn't been bad enough, the management and support to get me back to work in another post has caused a million times more anguish and despair resulting in all the feelings initially felt been blown out of the water. An organisation is only as good as the managers who run it. There seems to be no protection for employees even though policies are in black and white and there to protect us. The battle for justice continues!!

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  • I have just left nursing after many years. At the time of leaving two new staff nurses had started on the ward. They had just finished there training. I felt really worried for them, they are young and not emotionally intellegent(which i think all nurses have to have). How will they cope with bullying from, not so much staff on the ward as it is a very good team, but by one particular consultant, bed managers that are forcing them to admit new patients when they know there isn't the staff and the ward already has poorly patients and a couple of patients who are very confused and everyone is taking turns to watch them. Also, bullying from relatives that will try to intimadate them.
    I have been an excellent nurse over the last eight years but the enviroment we have to work in is unhealthy and i no intention ever of returning.

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  • I am now old and wise,a nurse for many years. when I came here many years ago to follow my nursing career, I could not speak english very well and could not express myself effectively.I was bullied,ill treated and was called many horrible names.I am still in nursing and now I know exactly how to deal with bullies. I am a mentor and I take great pride in helping my young staff nurses and students how NOT to be bullied.

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  • I agree with all of this. I qualified as a registered nurse only two years ago, coming from an entirely different background, and have been angered, disappointed and dispirited by the bullying I have both directly experienced and witnessed. The ward where I now work has a couple of known bullies who have actually driven staff away over the years. Despite innumerable complaints about their attitude and behaviour, absolutely nothing has been done. They have continued on their merry way, now presumably thinking they are untouchable. it's time the NHS collectively challenged all bullying behaviour and eradicated it, otherwise a lot of good staff will be lost.

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  • I am at present studying hard to apply to be a student nurse in Septmber 2010. I am a mature student and nursing is my dream - however i keep reading articles on bullying in nursing and i must admit its worrying - am i doing the right thing? making such a massive commitment to work amongst intimidation & bullying - its supposed to be caring profession, i just dont get it ? Arrogant consultants i can sort of understand but amongst colleagues ? i must be so niave ! What to do ?

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  • Having been bullied for the past 6 months in my current job, I decided to make a formal complaint to the service manager as well as Human resources. I was warned by some of my colleagues that nothing will happen - and indeed nothing happened. I decided the best thing for me was to get another Job. After several unsuccessful interviews I finally got one just to be given a bad reference from my manager. Its a shame that sometimes the same people that bully us are the same ones that have to give us refereces. This means that to get a good referece one has to endure all the stress and hardships that comes with bulling without complaint.

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  • as a student nurse I am usually ignored - arrive on the ward, nobody says hello or smiles. The HCAs are always ready to tell me what I've done wrong but there's precious little positive feedback. I'm developing the hide of a rhino to cope. Very surprised still, in my third year, that this goes on.

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  • I am a student nurse in my second year and a mature student who has worked in both the private and public sectors. I had not experienced being talked over, ignored, spoken to as though I have the intelligence of a squashed amoeba, having to keep nagging to get skills taught/assessed, etc. until going on placement. I really don't know how much more I can take. The placements are amazing in that the patients are amazing. The problem is definitely the staff in many many places and the management and morale of the employees.
    I want to be a nurse. I don't want to be bullied nor do I want to become a bully. If, as a student, you show willing - it can be like painting a target on your butt and placing a pointy hat on your head. Don't get me wrong, there are amazing nurses in amongst it all but they sometimes seem to be few and far between.
    It's hard staying motivated but I hope to be able to work somewhere where staff have the same work ethos as I do and can support each other, celebrate strengths and put the patients first. Not too much to ask I hope?

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  • I was bullied 8 years ago by a manager. I went to another post in the same specialism and was told I was an excellent nurse from a number of colleagues, managers and patients but I've never regained my confidence clinically, as a result I moved into a non-clinical role - that is both a loss for me and the profession.

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  • AS a nurse who has been a victim of bullying and when reported to management nothing happened and eventually I was reported to the NMC as punishment while the bully was promoted to H grade. The nhs does not want to change and never will unless strict rules are followed and alleged bullies are suspended until the investigation is done. I personally know several nurses who were made to cry by a bully but didnt report it because they knew that nothing would be done. and needed a good referance. the ridiculousness is that The ward manager gave me a referance letter and then 2 months later reported me to the NMC. but in the end the matrons testimony was not believed by the NMC , but she still is matron

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  • bullying is endemic in our culture not just in the nhs. my last job I left because of bullying by my manager who had no managerial experience or qualification but was entirely supported by a target and finance driven structure on the part of the organisation. quality of care was secondary to waving flags of self congratulation in reaching dangerously achieved targets. another significant factor it seems is personal self-awareness development which seems to be lacking in the training. most bullies I've come across are entirely unaware of the impact their behaviour has on other people regardless of any bullying and harrassment mandatory training. the rest seem either not to care or to enjoy the effect they have which is astonishing to find people like this in the care industry. I now have a manager who is prepared to stand up to and deal with the bullies in my current place of work, and it's like a breath of fresh air, odd how that is so unusual, eh?!

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  • This is my story I would not complain again if I saw or was a victim of negative behaviour


    I was sacked by my employers. They sent me a letter in the post terminating my employment from 21 November 09. This is what the letter said. "My employment at the hospital is not proving successful as there are constant tension between me and other staff. We have tried to resolve these issues with you over the last few months, however, unfortunately many of the issues remain ongoing dispite our best endeavours to resolve them. We fully support all staff who seek our support and assistance but in these particular circumstances, we consider that it is in both our best interests not to continue with your contract of employment at the hospital". I am so shocked, I did not see this coming. It all started in Jan 09 when I 1st started on the ward I sensed that there was already tension there. By the 3rd month of my employment I had voiced my complaint to the Matron about the behaviour of the Sister to me. By June I had to raise a formal complaint about her behaviour. My complaint was up held and the Sister had to Apologize in writing to me. It did stop there and soon after that lodge complaint about my colleagues negative behaviour towards me. Statements were exchanged and decisions came and went and for a while there was nothing. I offered a proposal to enable closure, this was rejected by my colleague. A decision was made and my complaint was not up held. I made an appeal against the decision made, two weeks ago. I received the letter dated 23th November terminating my employment.
    I can not believe this has happen to me, what did I do that was so wrong? Did I deserved to be sacked in the 11th month of my contract? No prior warning was given. When the issues were addressed, it did not take long for them to reappear. The contention was mainly due to staff taking unofficial breaks to have a quick smoke. The ward and hospital has a no smoking policy. It caused contention because whilst they had their smoke the rest were left to carry on with the work. As the coordinator when I saw this happen I duly reported this to the Matron. I was a fool if I had known that what I was doing would have left me vulnerable I would have turned a blind eye to it all. All I was doing was to model the code of standards expected from others.
    I am awake now, cant sleep, what am I going to do now? This is not the end just yet, the negative behaviour continues. I was offered a Great job. I found out on Friday 20th Nov that the matron had sent a bad reference to the perspective employer, the job offer was withdrawn. I am unemployable now. Is it because I am black? Why I have been treated so?
    All I did was to model the NMC code of practice expected by others. The problem is I made one too many complaints about the Sister of the ward, regarding her conduct which upset the status Que and as a consequence I lost my job. It is not what you know but who you know. The Matron the Sister and the other bullies have been running the ward for a long long time. The Trust does nothing accept sack those that dare speak up against them. I just cant believe that this has happened. I have not been a RGN for long but i so regret being a Nurse, I hate how nurses treat one another, so uncaring and nasty and vicious.

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  • I feel a lot better now ive got that off my chest. Ive stopped crying now too. time is 04:05. Later im going to look for a job. I am still lucky since the ward Doctor offered to give me a reference when they found out what happen to me. I got on and worked well with them when doing the doc rounds

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  • I too feel the same as the student nurse who commented on 2nd November. I am also a student nurse and I have never felt so ignored and invisible in my entire life and career . I am a mature adult with a grown up child and decided to embark on a new career as my daughter is now independent. I fear that this option was a mistake but I have too much invested in it to give up. However, because of my experience, which is very similar to the aforementioned student I am finding it hard to stay motivated. I feel belittled and humiliated and can't see a way forward but feel I have little choice but to continue with my studies. It's time this bullying was stopped. It wreaks people's lives', careers, hopes and aspirations.

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  • I AM A STUDENT NURSE JUST GOING INTO SECOND YEAR IN STAFFORDSHIRE, A MATURE STUDENT WHO HAS REPORTED BULLING, ABUSE OF PATIENTS, HARASSMENT. THOSE THAT ABUSE GET A GOLDEN HAND SHAKE AND TOLD HOW GOOD THEY ARE AT THEIR JOBS AND LEFT TO CARRY ON WHILST ALL PATIENT DIGNITY AND RESPECT IS TARNISHED. THEY ARE LIKE WOODEN CHAIRS THAT HAVE NO VOICE. STUDENTS WITNESS BAD PRACTICE, SLOPPY NURSING TECHNIQUES, PATIENTS BEING SHOUTED AT. I HAVE SPOKEN OUT AND TOLD PEOPLE TO STOP WHAT THEY WERE DOING ONLY TO FIND THAT THEY ARE FULLY SUPPORTED BY NURSES THAT ARE JUST THERE TO GET PAID AND NOTHING ELSE. IT IS DISGUSTING, I WANTED TO MAKE A CHANGE BUT AS A STUDENT DONOT HAVE A VOICE EVEN THOUGH STUDENTS SEE WHAT SOME H CARES GET UP TO, IE PATIENT NAME CALLING, IGNORING THE PATIENT WHEN THEY HAVE CONCERNS, LEAVING RADIOS ON WITH HEAD BANGING MUSIC WHILST THEY MAKE BEDS AND LEAVING THEM ON KNOWING FULL WELL THEY CANT REACH TO TURN THEM OFF, IGNORING PAIN, IGNORING THE PATIENT WHEN THEY COMPLAIN. STUDENTS ARNT EVEN ALOUD TO ASK QUESTIONS AS THIS IS SEEN AS INAPPROPRIATE QUESTIONING / DID SOME ONE SAY MY TITLE WAS STUDENT NURSE. I HAVE BEEN KICKED OF MY COURSE FOR RAISING CONCERNS / RAISING STANDARDS THEY CALL IT WHISTLE BLOWING. Looks like the only whistling ile be doing now is in the dole que. But ile let you into a little secret i have not one regret i can sleep at nite and will always stand up to bullies, because they do it as they are so insecure so always hold your head up high and bounce back. I AM CURRENTLY IN THE PROCESS OF TAKING LEGAL ACTION I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT NURSING /FAMILY & FREINDS, STANDING UP TO MANAGEMENT OR UNIVERSITIES SENDS A CLEAR MESSAGE THAT YOU WONT PUT UP WITH IT.

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  • I worked for a health board on one on the scottish islands for 5 and a half years. I was not a nurse but worked as a help desk clerk - taking repair reports for the main hospital and health centres and for nurses on outer islands and issuing job centres. All went well untill january of 2009 when a remote report was done on the department by a consultant who had never visited the department or the hospital where I worked - no fewer than 8 consultants turned up to "run the department" I had previously worked for 2 managers and with the engineers. One of my managers was effectivley forciibly retired - the other moved to a different department. In all this the "board" did not visit the Estates department but simply acted on the information given to them by the remote report. My life was made complete hell - I was verbally abused and threatened on a daily basis - I was not even give the curtesy of being called by my first name - as a result I left at 51 I have had one temporary job which has come to an end and it is proving difficult to get any permenant work. I don't know if its still going on but the sum of £20,000 a month was being paid in fees to these people - the few reports I have had from staff I knew still working in the hospital is that maintenance has suffered badly - often not done - particulary on the wards but staff are to afraid to report this - I went to my union for help - but they were hopless and scared - what can be done if staff don't support eachother, and also in all of this patients lives are in danger.

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  • I have read all the statements here and completely understand the anguish that you have all suffered as i have suffered it too. If you are a qualified nurse there is lots that you can acheive.Bullying follow through your trust proceedure obtaining support through RCN OR UNISON, remember you pay a subscription to them and they have an agreement with you to give you support. Once you have come right to the end of the proceedure and HR DO NOT UPHOLD YOUR COMPLAINT, or the RCN AND UNISON DONOT fight the case, your household insurance should cover you for legal cases as long as you have followed all the correct proceedures. If no house insurance contact a solicitor who deals in employment law victimisation and bullying and harrasment, as first of all if they will do a no win no fee case. I was a student nurse and my solicitor has agreed this as i suffered bullying and harrasment through whistle blowing. First thing though before you whistle on a bully or see things that should not be going on contact Public concern at work in london and they will give you guidance first of all so you can keep your self safe. Complain to the NMC ABOUT THE BULLY and have them investigage your organisation fitness to practice proceedures as 9 times out of 9 staff will collude against you and try to force you out of a job rather than investigate the problem as you are seen as a trouble causer. For further guidance you can email me at ballatt1@hotmail.co.uk dont ever be afraid to stand up to a bully - this causes stress anguish, confusion, feelings of being let down by the witnesses that wont support you. You will only feel this way if you allow another Human being to do this to you. If you are a student that needs advice and support email me for advice, the more we stand against bad practice and bullys the quicker we can bring on change, keep your faith and always beleive that there is hope and others that think the same as you.
    kind regards

    Barbara Allatt

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  • I have been a Health Professional for 16years during this time I was bullied and ended up leaving my post with stress. After ten years I have returned to nursing and I am currently just starting my second year in Mental Health. On my last ward I was bullied and found it difficult to deal with. I did ask the University for help and support which helped me. I felt very let down by my mentor though. It was as if she couldn't be bothered and she lied to help a colleague who was bullying. She was certainly not the role model I had percieved at the beginning of my training.
    I'm not sure what I will do if this happens again. It's about time the NHS sorted this issue out.

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  • I am not a frontline worker - I work in an
    NHS office for the last twelve years.
    I have been doing what the 'Equality and
    Diversity' training has recently suggested-
    'Speak Out' I have paid a heavy price many
    times over - from being ignored and discredited to being verbally attacked and
    threatened. I have lost a lot of quality time in my life in this twelve years and also
    some degree of heallth due to anxiety and
    smashed confidence. I care about patients and I put myself out as a privledge daily and people who either work like robots, following rules rather that showing care for humans and those who ignore bullying to protect themselves and their work ' friends' are left alone and even rewarded. The covering up, denial and pretence is
    unbearable and wrecks havoc on mine and
    others mental health, self confidence and
    ability to perform in the job as well as impacting their own lives. Nothing the health Service can do now can refund me my lost time and health. Some of the new initiatives are welcome but are often hyped up whilst continuned problems are brushed under the carpet to protect the image of certain people, not just senior managers and politicians - people cling together to protect what they have to the
    detriment of integrity, employees, patients, the service and the taxpayer.

    Employees and patients must continue to speak out however they are able to stop
    issues being covered up and deemed
    resolved by some new initiative, if that
    initiative has not dealt with bullying fully.
    The NHS is giving with one hand - by bringing onboard initiatives like 'Equality and Diversity' training and ' Values' exercises and digging in their heels in denial
    of the suffering of bullied staff and patients. We cannot afford to give up even though sometimes we feel outnumbered, alone and tired of asking for our rights. Bullying costs a lot of money - in lost productivity, sickness, poor quality performance and patients having to return time and time again instead of being helped with an open positive attitude.

    We must keep out voices out in the public
    domaine and never give up - for our own sakes - not to have suffered in vain and to fight to have the health care service we deserve to work in which also shows
    respect for patients.

    Remember patients also suffer discrimination and unjust, heavy handed
    treatment in Gp practices - staff need to
    be protected- but they also need to be
    educated to treat each other AND patients
    fairly and with dignity. Managers, middle
    management, team managers and line managers must be brought into line to work fairly and with integrity instead of
    promoting and protecting their own interests.

    Keep posting- keep speaking out- contact your MP, newspaper - we must reduce the problem of bullying by putting our bad experiences to good use.

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  • bullying can be so subtle it is unperceptible. I wasn't brought up in a bullying culture and on the whole learnt to trust people unless they proved untrustworthy. This cost me my job.

    The nursing director of a clinic who had employed me eight months previously suddenly decided that she didn't need me as she had employed somebody else she deemed better qualified for the post. I learned later that this was a frequent tactic of hers. I had passed my trial period and she was unable to give me the sack so she gently bullied me out of the ward management job she had employed me for. We had agreed on the trial period where I would work on the ward with the nurses and observe their working practices. Then the new nurse arrived and I was told that she and not I would get the management post. I was then supernumerary and was summoned to her office and offered one week to write and hand in my resignation. I was totally surprised and as I did not want to leave I spoke to a psychologist who worked on our team, had many years experience in the workings of the clinic and the staff and shared our coffee breaks with us in the team. She advised me, based on her experience of what had gone before, to hand in my notice as she pointed out to me if I stayed I would be bullied so much that the stress would be likely to cause me to comit a professional error so that she would have grounds to sack me. Before following her advice, however, I contacted my union who said they were unable to do anything to help as it was a private clinic. However, they informed me that they already had on their files 20 similar complaints from the same clinic and five of which they had taken to a tribunal. I was offered all the support from them I would need if I wished to take this route but as I did not want this on my records I decided to leave quietly.

    This was followed by a long period of unemployment and a string of unsuccessful jobs as this experience and lack of support from my nursing and medical colleagues after bereavements in quick succession of two of my closest family, made me totally incapable of carrying on in nursing or over the age of 50 getting back into employment to match my experience and qualifications.

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