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NHS nurse bullying 'drastically needs examination', warns Healthcare Commission


Healthcare Commission chair Sir Ian Kennedy has called for renewed focus on nurse leadership and issued a warning about the ‘corrosive’ nature of bullying in the NHS

He also said the leadership of nurses, ‘drastically needs some examination’ in light of stories about patients not being taken to the toilet or fed at appropriate times.

A “strong strand” running through the Bristol Inquiry into children’s heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which Sir Ian led, was that its chief nurse had been ‘bullying everybody’, he said.

Sir Ian’s warning about the ‘corrosive’ nature of bullying among NHS staff and managers comes in the week the watchdog is being absorbed into the Care Quality Commission.

Speaking to the Health Service Journal, he said: ‘One thing that worries me more than anything else in the NHS is bullying.

‘We’re talking about something that is permeating the delivery of care in the NHS.’

The problem was caused by the NHS’s ‘hierarchical’ culture and occurred across all staff groups, he said. His comments follow last week’s staff survey, in which 8 per cent of respondents said they had experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from a manager or team leader and 12 per cent said they had from colleagues.

Sir Ian said bullying was ‘one of the biggest untalked about problems in the delivery of good care to patients’.


Readers' comments (19)

  • As a student nurse i have experienced a 'bully' on one of my placements. The nurse was infamous for it and plenty of staff left because of them.

    It was brought to the attention of the Trust but seemingly nothing was done because she was back on the ward 'bullying' again the next day.

    How she was aloud to carry on being charge nurse and mentoring students i dont know

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  • I agree with the comment's not just the patients that get the end of it all, the other staff do as well and this has to stop.

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  • I agree with the above statements as a community nurse i feel i have also been bullied and at long last im going to do something about it. I dont understand how nurses can be rude to other healthcare professionals but they seem to get away with it. Im now going to lobby my mp and the PCT in whic i work. i have been reading about suiside rates in nursing im angry at myself for letting myself be bullied and sad i never done it sooner.

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  • I am currently coming to the end of my three years of training to become a nurse and unfortunately within this time I have come across many bullies within a variety of my placement areas. I went into nursing to make a difference to individuals and families lives, just like in the past both myself and my family have recieved from some amazing healthcare professionals, ones who are able to put their differences aside and work as a team to provide the best quality of care. Unfortunately I have seen little of this since commencing the course both as a student and also as a patient. I believe that nursing is no longer a vocation, it is something that many enter because they are offered funds to do the course and also because they feel it is an 'easy' job or because they cannot think of other options. Why are the 'bullies' of this profession allowed to continue whether they are bullying students, other staff members, patients or their families??? As a student it is often hard to stand up to these individuals or go to someone about the problems you are facing as you feel this may be reflected on your marks from placement! In all honesty the only time i have ever stood up to these people is when they have effected patients, however when it effects me I just keep going, but why should I, why should anyone????

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  • My Wife currently works in a busy recovery unit. The levels of poor leadership and bullying from senior staff to accomplish the 'task' of recovering patients in sometimes inadequate conditions is atrocious. The times have changed from the team environments that I used to work in as a Nurse. Leadership is poorly lacking, managerialism taking over. New qualified students show little respect and bring the secondary school mentality with them into the wards with cliques and gangs forming with no control or respect of hierarchy. This leaves those marginalised staff more vulnerable to bullying from younger inexperienced staff. Modern matrons merely administer and have not brought the discipline necessary back to the wards. All in all the experience I have of Bristol is that nursing is in dire need of an injection of good quality, qualified leadership from ward level up.

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  • Unfortunately it is not just within the NHS that bullying goes on but in the private sector too. My colleagues and I are being bullied into radical changes in our working practices and will be on a lower pay band too. Meanwhile (those who haven't left) struggle on to continue to work offering the same level of service to our patients. What has happened to this profession?

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  • My wife is an ICU nurse in Hammersmith Hospital and from an outsiders’ point of view. Modern nursing has along way to go in terms of leadership and management. It seems to me that discrimination and bullying are endemic within the NHS culture and that rectifying this would provide a massive improvement in patient treatment and career prospects of all nurses. There are senior nurses and sisters who seem to hark back to the Victorian days of autocratic and tyrannical leadership. As company director responsible for a larger team of professionals I find this alien. If I or senior member of my team conducted this type of leadership practice my team would up and leave and I would be fired. It seems actually raising a grievance as my wife did or trying to fight back in anyway as many of her colleges’ have is pointless, as bullies and bigots can hide behind ineffectual draw out processes and ingrained protectionism. My daughter also wants to start studying as a nurse but what should I tell her? nursing is now a modern profession where a person can aspire and grow within a culture of collaboration and mutual respect or a place where only the strong survive

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  • Please join the Bullying In The NHS Site on Facebook if you are worried about this matter. I am fed up with the bulying I have seen of Clinical staff which seems to be an entrenched method of doing things !

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  • Hi, yes I agree with what everyone is saying - bullying is rife in the NHS. I know staff that have been bullying for years - allegedly been dealt with and still bullying today. Why can't they be named and shamed? Why can't staff be asked to identify them anonymously? You would think management wanted to keep them, hush everything up, brush it under the carpet - everything but address the issues. What on earth is going on??

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  • The recent news about allegations of bullying within Downing Street reawakened my feelings of anger at the bullying that contributed to the ending of my career within mental health services.
    The Crisis Team in which I worked were aware of pending service changes and were keen to help begin the process and not leave it to the last minute, as usual. The service manager left a consultation meeting to the last day and gave us 24 hours notice of the meeting taking place. We politely requested the meeting be delayed by a few days to give as many staff as possible a chance to be present. The service manager responded by telling us he wouldn't change the meeting and would consider taking disciplinary action against staff who didn't attend.
    We took out a grievance alledging bullying and using the Trust procedure. The investigation was carried out by the service managers line manager who wrote in her report "he (the service manager) admitted threatening to take disciplinary action but had no intention of acting on that threat, therefore it's not bullying".
    Surprised and shocked we attempted to use the next stage of the grievance procedure. This was blocked. We wrote detailed accurate letters asking reasonable questions of more senior Trust managers in particular in wanting to understand what bullying is, if it wasn't what we experienced. Needless to say we recieved no answers just sychophantic waffle suggesting that it was our fault in the first place and that we didn't want to engage in "partnership working".
    In conclusion I wrote to the chief executive who replied briefly, suggesting I get some counselling.
    The real damage was done by creating a poisonous culture of mistrust resulting in dissafected staff leaving, taking with them experience you can't buy. All so a box could be succesfully ticked.
    My advice is, sadly, don't trust the Trust.
    Gavin Barnard

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