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20% of NHS staff 'endured bullying'


Up to one in five NHS staff may have been bullied at work over the past six month, suggests research by the Durham University.

“Workplace bullying remains a significant issue with far-reaching consequences for the healthcare workforce,” the study authors said last week in BMJ Open

Their findings are based on surveys of almost 3,000 NHS staff from seven employers in the north east of England. Of these around 630 were nurses and 300 were healthcare assistants.

Around 20% of respondents reported being bullied at least “now and then” within the past six months and 43% had witnessed other staff being bullied.

Half said the source of bullying was a supervisor and respondents noted that often the people doing the bullying were “stressed” themselves due to their workload. Workplace culture was also cited as a factor by nearly 20%.

One respondent said: “Certain departments have an ethos of being rude, unpleasant and occasionally verbally aggressive. When you have day to day contact with these people it can be exhausting and severely undermines confidence.”

Few staff reported bullying to someone in authority, ranging from around 3% for practical jokes to 14% for abuse or allegations.  

Barriers to reporting bullying included concern that nothing would change and being labelled as troublemakers.


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Readers' comments (26)

  • so what's beng done about it. if unmanageable workload is a form of bullying then when are we getting more staff in?

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  • The problem with this study is that it was limited to current NHS staff. I was a nurse specialist and considered in senior nurse management role. Bullying led to me having time off with stress and eventually led to me leaving the NHS after over 25 years of service. I was publically and privately humiliated and "hung out to dry" by members of senior hospital management, simply for sticking to my principles that patients should come first and get appropriate care. No-one helped or supported me, (even my union who were "too busy to talk to me").
    Seven years later I'm still resentful of the way I was treated but I've had to learn to get over it.
    Those of us who have been "forced out" can witness that things are still the same - managers spend their time devising new ways of "meeting unrealistic Govt-set targets" at the detriment of staff and patients alike. When will healthcare professions stand up and be counted?

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  • I was `forced` out when a consultant tried to make a show of me in full view of the staff; I was trying to be a patients advocate by querying over inflated waiting lists - this was the days of Waiting List Initiatives. That was an eye opener to be sure - some doctors wizzed through their patients as being paid per individual patient. Normally their work rate for their NHS salary was poor - not all doctors did this but I witnessed a fair amount who did.

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  • When you face a disciplinary or find yourself being bullied you will soon know who your friends are, don't rely on your so-called friends at work to come out and support you, it's a selfish world out there even in this so-called caring profession.

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  • Bullying is alive and well in The NHS. Believe me I know.

    I finally escaped from my place of torture a few years ago after being off sick for nearly six months. I went back to work only after telling management if they put me back on the same ward I would scream the place down and tell everyone all about everything. The TV, the press and anyone else that would listen.

    Management knew all about the problems on that ward but wouldn't or couldn't do anything about the problems on there.

    So yes, I escaped. The turn over of staff remains very high because the problem still exists to this day!!

    Students ask to be moved and are on a regular basis.

    It is ingrained in the culture I am told.

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 2-Jul-2013 8:31 pm

    I believe you. If management are corrupt and we are without moral leadership I can't see things improving anytime soon if ever.
    There has to come a point when we stand up for ourselves because no one is coming to our rescue.

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  • I dared to report bullying by someone who had already had previous complaints against her upheld. I can empathise with "Anonymous | 2-Jul-2013 11:39 am".
    If I hadn't had to experience what followed for the last 6yrs, I wouldn't have believed it was possible. A nurse manager overtly stated her aim was to get rid of me whatever it took. The cost to my health now leaves me unable to work anyway. The defamation and cost to career/character reputation I haven't yet worked out how to get over. I've now heard I'm likely to be offered a payoff complete with gagging order (payoff won't cover loss of earnings already, let alone future). I'll have to rebuild life somehow, but the part I have no idea how to come to terms with is that registered nurses who have deliberately set out to do harm, & even admit to it, will get to continue nursing whilst I won't. & that they'll be left free to do the same to someone else in the future. I've been advised against referring them to the NMC as they have so discredited me that NMC would be unlikely to even take case on.

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  • Anonymous | 3-Jul-2013 10:11 pm

    That is a terrible and all too common story. You have lost your profession and patients have lost a consciencious and dedicated nurse.

    Several years ago, I was sent to 'help out' in a busy acute ward where there was a high sickness rate and failure to retain staff. It was well known that the ward manager, with a couple of lieutenants, ruled this ward with fear, bullying and intimidation. The staff of my unit were each seconded to this ward for a period of a month for almost a year. Each staff member was subjected to the 'treatment' from this woman and her cohorts and there were many reports to management about their behaviour. Nothing happened. When my turn arrived to work in the ward, I lasted a week.
    Charts were altered behind my back, I was left to work unsupported and was pulled up by the deputy manager for a mistake made by another staff nurse (one of sister's mates). The breaking point was the story told to me by a patient about her treatment at the hands of this scum. She had recorded it in a daily journal over a two week period. It was abuse pure and simple.
    This resulted in me (a normally peace loving individual and having exhausted the established avenues of complaint) waiting until the ward manager was alone in her office and going in 'for a word'. It concerns me even now that my anger was such that I fully intended to carry out all the things that I promised I would do to this woman. I have never been so angry before or since. I went from her office directly to my own manager and informed her that I was going to be contacting a well known national newspaper to report everything that had been happening. Further, that her own name would be first on the list as she has consistently failed to act on repeated reports from her staff. Career be damned.
    I was in my early forties, had a lot of experience under my belt and knew that if it had been necessary to leave nursing that we would have just about survived financially until I found something else. Had I been on my own, or a single parent, or the only wage earner in the house, or younger and less sure of myself, etc., etc., I probably never would have gone into that office.
    By the next day, the ward manager was removed from her ward, but put on 'Management Secondment' in another trust hospital. Management finally instituted an investigation and the unions and HR were involved in interviewing all staff. It took about 6 months for all the deadwood staff to be removed, new management to be put in place and the ward finally turned around.
    Ultimately, the ward manager 'left' nursing, but there were, as far as I am aware, no disciplinary proceedings taken against anyone. No one was reported to the NMC. I found all this out about a year after the investigation started. I was so disillusioned by what had happened and by the lack of response from my own managers (who I had previously thought were pretty good), that, within a few months, I got another job in another area of nursing.
    I consider myself very fortunate to have survived with my career and reputation intact. That is indeed rare when the bullies have been to work on you.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 3-Jul-2013 10:11 pm

    'I've now heard I'm likely to be offered a payoff complete with gagging order'

    Hasn't 'the glorious Jeremy' 'banned gagging orders in the NHS where the intention is to cover up issues that might affec tpatient safety' ?

    Or, didn't I hear him saying that, repeatedly ?

    I'm sorry for almost all of you - my own experience is of the pointlessness of the NHS Complaints procedure, and of then trying the Health Service Ombudsman, if you want to actually get problems looked at properly and improvements made, but as a lay person: they can't sack lay people, although they can make us very angry !

    I've repeatedly stated this - it isn't that staff need to be told of 'their professional duty to raise concerns', what is necessary is built-in systemic protection for the staff who do raise concerns.

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  • Anonymous | 4-Jul-2013 11:26 am

    Thank you for your support.
    I too am early 40s with several years experience. Unfortunately I am on my own, so along with loss of income, I am also facing losing my home (at a time when moving to another area would mean changing GP/other health care at the time they're most needed).
    Sadly, the bullies have shown so little conscience, I think that if they realised the full consequences of their actions, they'd probably just enjoy it even more. Frightening that these are nurses.

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