Allegations of bullying culture at two Staffordshire hospitals

Hundreds of hospital workers have said they have suffered bullying and harassment at work – and many who have experienced the treatment believe it is because of their ethnicity. A “culture of bullying” at the University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust was reported by one in five staff who took part in an independent survey commissioned by the Trust. And one in ten respondents said they have recently experienced bullying or harassment.

Hospital bosses have said action is being taken to address the problem as bullying and harassment of staff would not be tolerated. A total of 3,506 people took part in an online survey – 31.2% of the staff at the Trust, which runs the Royal Stoke Hospital and Stafford’s County Hospital.

One in five respondents said they had been bullied or harassed by a colleague in the past two years, while a quarter of doctors and a third of nurses who took part in the survey said they had been bullied or harassed by a hospital patient or visitor to be.

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Almost half of the cases of bullying and harassment reported by Black or Minority Ethnic (BME) doctors and dentists have been linked to their ethnicity. This was also the case for 60% of BME respondents who said they had been bullied and harassed by a manager, compared to 3% of white UK respondents.

Other reasons respondents felt bullied or harassed included age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or job performance. But only 28% of respondents who said they had suffered this treatment from managers said they would be willing to raise a concern, compared to 63% who experienced bullying or harassment by a member of the public and spoke up had.

The results of the review, conducted by Charity Brap and academic Roger Kline, were presented at the most recent UHNM board meeting. Chairman David Wakefield called the level of bullying reported in the review “completely unacceptable”. He said: “I want to make it clear as Chair of this Trust that we will not tolerate this. People won’t work here if they don’t live the values.”

Professor Gary Crowe said: ‘It makes reading very difficult. It is not a matter that trust will take lightly and I would like to salute colleagues around the table for not flinching from seeking independent verification and for addressing the sensitive issue here. I want to put it on record that there is no place in the NHS or in this trust for a culture of bullying, harassment or discrimination. It’s not acceptable. The board of directors will take care of this problem. We need an environment where people are heard and listened to.”

dr Matthew Lewis, the trust’s medical director, said progress has already been made in addressing the issues raised in the report, including investing in a full-time Freedom to Speech Guardian. Ghiyas Somra, People, Policy and Research Manager at Brap, said: “Our report shows that while trust is by no means an outlier on this agenda, there is still more work to be done.

“It’s up to the leadership of the trust to set clear expectations for the behavior they want to see. The report’s findings point to a culture in which physicians do not always feel respected and supported by their peers. That needs to change. Our review also shows that there is still work to be done to support nurses and other healthcare workers who experience abuse and harassment from patients and the public. Unfortunately, the most common reason for this type of harassment is employee ethnicity. This aligns with survey results showing that BME employees are 1.6 times more likely to report bullying/harassment by a colleague than white employees.

“Rudeness is a hot topic in the industry right now, but these results show that we must not forget the importance of addressing racial harassment. We welcome the fact that the Trust has decided to publish these results to allow for an open and informed debate with its staff and the local community.

“With the Trust benefitting from a relatively new leadership team, there is no better time for them to champion this agenda. They have a clear mission from staff who want positive change – not just for their own well-being, but for patients as well.”

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