Workforce and Training

24.02.16

NHS staff survey prompts calls for action on bullying, harassment and understaffing

Bullying, harassment and pressures on staff are prevalent problems in the NHS, according to the latest annual NHS Staff Survey.

The 2015 survey in England found that almost half of its 299,000 respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that there were enough staff at their organisation for them to do their job properly.

In addition, 45% disagreed that they had adequate supplies or equipment to do their job and 31% felt they were not able to manage conflicting demands on their time. A recent National Audit Office reported criticised the NHS for badly managing its staffing supplies, leading to shortages and reliance on agency staff.

Over one in eight (13%) of staff reported experiencing harassment or bullying from their manager, and 18% had received it from colleagues. Patients, their relatives and the general public were also a problem, with 15% of staff experiencing physical violence from them and 28% experiencing harassment.

Only 41% said that they had reported the most recent incident of bullying or harassment, indicating staff may still fear speaking out despite governmental attempts to promote whistleblowing.

Despite this, the survey showed NHS staff have an overall positive approach to work, with over half of staff claiming they often or always looked forward to going to work and 74% saying they feel enthusiastic about their job.

Because of this, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the survey showed progress compared to the year before and reflected the “commitment of NHS staff to deliver excellent patient care”.

But he noted: “The survey also highlights however, areas where more action must be taken, such as work pressure on staff and poor behaviour, including bullying.”

NHS England boss Simon Stevens agreed that while the feedback contained “encouraging signs” that the health service is becoming “a more supportive employer”, there is still much to do in tackling discrimination, bullying and harassment, as well as supporting staff health and wellbeing.

The impact of understaffing and other pressures also remains a concern, with 37% of staff reporting feeling unwell due to work-related stress – although this is a small decrease from the 39% reported in last year’s survey – and 63% coming to work despite feeling unable to perform their duties.

The level satisfied with their pay had risen slightly, from 33% last year to 37%, and 60% had worked unpaid overtime.

Three-quarters of respondents felt they were able to make suggestions to improve the work of their team or department, but relations with senior management were poorer, with only 38% feeling that their communication with staff was effective and 30% reporting that managers acted on staff feedback.

Overall, only 39% of respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of patient care they provided.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, argued the survey painted a picture of an organisation whose staff feel “undervalued, underpaid and unable to provide the level of patient care they would like”.

“As a result almost two thirds of staff are coming to work despite feeling unable to perform their duties. This would not happen if they did not feel services were stretched to breaking point,” she said. “These numbers must not be ignored, they must be acted upon.”

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