NHS staff bullying on the rise with one in four workers experiencing harassment or abuse

Bullying is on the rise across the NHS, with more staff feeling unwell due to work stress and more than one in four personally experiencing harassment, bullying, or abuse in 2018.

The annual NHS staff survey shows an “alarming downturn in the wellbeing of hardworking NHS staff” and points to “an overall decline in staff health and wellbeing” according to John Appleby, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust.

Only 29% of staff said they felt their organisation takes positive action on health and wellbeing, a drop of 3%, and 30% said they often think about leaving their NHS organisation.

The survey of almost half a million NHS staff follows comments from the chairman of NHS England’s chairman describing the NHS’s target-driven culture as “dysfunctional” and “hierarchical,” encouraging poor behaviour.

The official data found that 25.5% of staff had personally experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse from colleagues or managers in 2018 – a rise from 24.4% the previous year.

John Appleby said: “After years of holding up against all the odds, today’s figures confirm an alarming downturn in the wellbeing of hardworking NHS staff.

“These pressures are not just a matter for staff themselves but have a knock-on effect on patients too.”

Some NHS trusts are also using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence staff who raise complaints of bullying and sexual harassment and hundreds of doctors have been accused in the last five years.

According to figures obtained by the Guardian, reports of sexual harassment and bullying in the NHS rose from 420 in 2013-14 to 585 in 2017-18, and only a small fraction of these led to a dismissal or disciplinary action.

At the Leeds and York partnership trust there were 34 complaints during the five-year period and only four dismissals, and there were 160 complaints at the Royal Free trust, with only a sixth leading to a dismissal.

Freedom of Information requests from the Guardian revealed that University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust and the University of Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS FT had issued six ‘gagging orders’ in the past five years.

Both trusts said the NDAs were used when both the trust and staff member wanted to keep sensitive information private, and stated that they did not prevent individuals from raising concerns.

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