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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)

  • Does anyone know if any statistics were gathered on how many of the bullies were members of the senior staff who are supposed to address the issue?

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  • From my personal Experience of working for the NHS I found it was the senior nurses who were the Bullies.Management had poor conflict resolution skills and actually took part in the bullying themselves.

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  • Human Resources are not here for us ordinary workers.They are there to protect management and senior nursing staff.The whole damn system is corrupt.

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  • I was sacked from NHS after raising patient safety concerns and after already being disciplined informally. Was referred to the NMC where my ex manager and two other witnesses were described as inconsistent, contradictory and lacked credibility. Despite going to the top, there is no evidence of a management led cover up.

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  • I recently completed my return to practice course after several years away from nursing. I was thrilled to start my first job as a staff nurse with the NHS after qualifying this September. Within a couple of days of starting my new job, I was horrified to find myself a victim of awful bullying by the unit sister and a couple of young staff nurses. I am in my early 50's and throughout my working life have never experienced such appalling treatment. This has completely stripped me of my self esteem and self confidence as well of feeling ashamed of myself. I ended up resigning after only three weeks of employment and am now unemployed with no income.

    When I handed my resignation to the unit manager, I informed her of the reason for this, but my reasons were dismissed as being 'only my perception of the situation'. However, when speaking to one of the Health Care Assistants, she informed me that several members of staff have left the unit because of bullying over the last couple of years but (and I quote) "they don't usually resign, they just go on the sick and do not come back." Surely someone in the organisation must know there is a problem and why has this not been acted upon?

    I now unfortunately regret doing the return to practice course and returning to the NHS. I am also aware that my resignation will probably look bad to future employers when applying for work especially staff nurse jobs.

    I think that the NHS really needs to take a good look at what is going on within its organisations with regard to bullying cultures and attitudes of staff, if it is serious about recruiting and retaining nurses!! I am shocked with what I have experienced, and do not know what direction I will now take.

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  • As a student nurse, I have constantly been talked to in a humiliating manner, which come across to me bullying. I'm training to be a nurse, so Iam learning and should not be told that am stupid for not knowing certain medical issues regarding my patients. Being a black student nurse does not help issues too. Racism is very rift in the NHS and someone have to address these.

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  • I have been in Ops meetings where the way senior managers, Band 8 and above, speak to Band 7 clinical nurses in an disgraceful way. I would describe the environment as toxic. Even those who are essentially decent people end up being tainted ending up as bullies themselves.

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  • I agree with the comments that it is often the 'senior' Nurses that do the bullying. Also bullying generally is endemic in any organisation that is part of the 'establishment'.
    I was a nurse within the prison service for a number of years and know of 2 staff members that committed suicide due to bullying.

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  • After being successfully chosen to become a trainee HCA, I was thrilled! But this soon changed within days of working in the clinic. I loved my job but I was constantly bullied by other HCAs who thought it was appropriate to make personal remarks about me. The department manager did nothing about this even though senior band 7 staff witnessed the behaviour numerous times.

    I have since left and I am now a student nurse. So far, my mentors within the community have been fantastic but I am now worried about starting my placement within the hospital. But I am doing my training for my patients, nobody else. I won't let these toxic people stop me from doing what I want to however, this is an issue that needs to be tackled!

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  • The term "senior nurse" is being used somewhat inconsistently here: by this is something like a Band 7 (which I was) meant? If so, why are nursing directors being talked about? Some clarity might help...

    My experience, and that of the other 7s in my service, was that we were targeted by managers (8a and up, usually of a nursing background) and scapegoated for the failings of higher management and commissioners. Said managers would also bully Band 3 and 4 admin staff.

    The higher up nurses, right up to the DoN, were part of the problem, condoning this behaviour towards clinical and admin staff and refusing to investigate any complaint we made.

    Asking those towards the top to do something about bullying is in the asking a leopard to change its spots territory...

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