Aggressive or rude behaviour between nurses and other members of staff could lead to errors and have a negative impact on patient safety, according to new research.
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A study at the University of Aberdeen looked at the impact of rudeness on how people carry out tasks.
It found a rude comment or overhearing such a remark can cause people to make a mistake.
In one study, students who were insulted by a professor on the way to the test performed worse on a series of memory tasks than others who had not been spoken to rudely.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Rhona Flin, professor of applied psychology, said human attention “is powerfully driven by emotion”.
“This reaction is probably caused by the emotional arousal caused by the rudeness, which resulted in a switchover of cognitive capacity to deal with the required emotional processing, or it may, more simply, be caused by distraction,” Prof Flin said.
Professor Flin said the link between performance and rudeness was particularly worrying when it comes to healthcare, with patients potentially being put at risk.
In operating theatres, even witnessing rudeness between doctors can impact on how the team performs.
“Recent studies suggest that disagreements and aggression between clinical staff are not uncommon,” she wrote.
In a survey of 391 NHS operating theatre staff, 66% said they had been the victim of aggressive behaviour from nurses and 53% from surgeons during the previous six months.
Professor Flin said: “If incivility does occur in operating theatres and affects workers’ ability to perform tasks, the risks for surgical patients - whose treatment depends on particularly high levels of mental concentration and flawless task execution - could increase.”