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Calls for chief nurses to help tackle 'shameful' NHS bullying stats


“Shameful” statistics that show around 25% of staff in the NHS are bullied must be addressed through a “cultural revolution” of the health service, nursing directors have been told.

Speaking as part of a panel debate at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit on Tuesday, workforce experts also noted that only around two thirds of NHS workers had said their concerns would be acted upon by managers.

They said the data – reported by professionals themselves through the annual NHS staff survey – revealed more needed to be done by nursing and other managers to support staff.

“[We need to] address two things in the [annual NHS] survey which are shameful. The first is that a quarter of staff say they are bullied”

Rob Webster

Particular attention should be paid to marginal groups – such as black and minority ethnic (BME) staff, temporary workers and students – that were more at risk of these issues, said Jocelyn Cornwell, chief executive of charity the Point of Care Foundation.

Ms Cornwell referred to the nationwide whistleblowing investigation helmed by Sir Robert Francis, which earlier this year highlighted these particular groups as being more worried about speaking out when they have concerns.

“I think that is a worry because we know there are large numbers of BME staff in key patient-facing roles, so it’s incredibly important they feel confident about speaking up and feel listened to in a good way when they do so,” she said.

Ms Cornwell said the health service had become “habituated” to reports of bullying in the annual staff survey, and claimed the “broader” problem was high stress levels.

“We know that nursing is very high stress work, high demand and associated with a sense you don’t have control”

Jocelyn Cornwell

“In the NHS, 28% of people report work related stress. In the general population it is closer to 18%. We know that nursing is very high stress work, high demand and associated in many environments with a sense you don’t have control,” she added.

She told senior nurses that, as leaders, they had an important role in creating work environments that tackled such problems by supporting staff to feel empowered.

Rob Webster

Rob Webster

Rob Webster

Speaking as part of the same panel debate, Rob Wester, chief executive of NHS Confederation – which represents NHS organisations – said: “[We need to] address two things in the [annual NHS] survey, which are shameful.

“The first is that a quarter of staff say they are bullied and that only two thirds of staff say they are confident somebody will act upon their concerns if they are raised,” he said.

Mr Webster suggested a “cultural revolution” was needed, because the NHS “wasted the assets of staff and of patients every single day”.


Readers' comments (34)

  • 25% say they have been bullied. What evidence has been found to support this claim? We work in a profession where everything we do must be backed up by evidence and yet here we have an article which provides no examples whatsoever. As a manager, I have been accused of bullying because I gave audit feedback; accused of bullying because I refused annual leave; accused of bullying because I terminated a contract for cause. All, I may add, in line with policy and with HR support. I abhor bullies, having been bullied myself, however we surely need to know what this 25% perceive to be bullying because what one person sees as fair, another will see as unfair and yet another as bullying. Don't put everything under the umbrella of 'bullying'. It does no service to the people out there who have been treated poorly and have become ill as a result of it. And I include myself in that number.

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  • 1. Poor Policies don't make right policies. 2. HR - who are they there for? 3. Some-times evidence is not evidence but cause rather than fact - that is potentially a dangerous thing to say in bullying terms.

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  • Me thinks audit can be a term for cloaking what some are doing. An organisation may call it audit but employment law might not think so.

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  • michael stone

    9 DECEMBER, 2015 2:26 PM

    I've just been involved in some sort of 'spat' on BMJ - and in this piece:

    I ended with:

    As an aside, I browse Nursing Times a lot, and different people seem to have very varied opinions about 'what counts as bullying'.

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  • I agree that policies often appear unfair, however, they are based on employment law and they are all managers have to work with. To work outside the company/HR policy leaves you wide open to accusations of any kind and you end up in an employment tribunal. I have been a witness at an employment tribunal following dismissal of a Dr. (not an experience I would wish to repeat) and the case was won purely on the basis that all procedures had been followed to the letter and documentation completed as per policy. And anonymous 6.48pm, strange how people celebrate a positive audit but decry an audit which points out deficiencies, together with how the individual concerned can learn and improve. It's not the nature of the audit, but how it is delivered that makes it a positive or negative experience.

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  • 11:43 Especially when it points out the deficiencies of a poor manager who doesn't know how to do one objectively or Does it over subjectively for a potential 'cause' rather than fact. Policies always involve subjectively to the eye of the beholder don't be so sure of yourself. I know of cases where that has been the employers undoing and some employers just that niece to think bullying is iron case. There is always the perspective of are you willing to play by the rules I.e. the media can potentially always do what the courts can not. What's an employer going to do if they try and use someone with no money? Times are changing and the more employers become tyrants the less the bullied employee has to lose.

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  • 11:43 strange how you make assumptions regarding how people think, where's your statistic?

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  • Of course the nature of the audit is an essential part, it is all too easy for an employer to implicate and justify an audit without considering the ethical or moral undertone that might lead to it. I'm not saying you think this but It is not all about the efficiency of process and when it is implemented simply because process or adhering to policy is a marker of excellence. That in such case is not a marker of excellence it is arguably a marker of faulty corporate approach that potentially creates deletism, false deficiency and deviance towards nurses, or what might be construeded as bullying. If one can find the holes in the corporate ethos one can also find better proof of bullying along those same lines. And in that way we can help identify how bullying may come always to the top (possibly government) if appropriate.

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  • I believe we can see such bullying towards nurses happening in other western countries, where we are now incorporating exotic corporate models of care here. All I'm going to say is do the research and open your eyes to what Jeremy Hunt may be attempting to implement here in the UK. I was shocked to what I found to be the 'dark side' of some exotic potentially non-culturally sensitive imported corporate models of care. It fits in perfectly with ideas of audits that can simply delete, accuse those who don't agree and thus potentially deny altogether negative statistics. The bullying I think is going to get worse and unions don't necessarily fair better either to what I read.

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  • Bullying - is it a failure of communication? Perhaps the next time statistics are collected, the questions should be more exacting to try and exclude subjective feelings. If we all reflect on what bullying is, depending upon the day, how busy and stressed we are, a comment can be perceived as bullying, ill considered, callous, thoughtless, unhelpful..... the list is almost endless. The pressures on all staff employed by the NHS is almost unbearable at times, we all have to hit the ground running each day when in work - I guess we can all reflect on what we need to say....and try and say it in the best and most helpful way possible.

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