UK
02/07/2013 03:03 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 03:11 BST

A Fifth Of NHS Workers Claim To Have Been Bullied At Work

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One in five NHS workers said they have been bullied by colleagues and almost half reported they have witnessed bullying in the last six months, according to a new survey.

Managers were the worst offenders, with increasing workloads and the workplace culture contributory factors, the study published in the online journal BMJ Open said.

Almost 3,000 NHS staff who work in a range of roles at seven trusts across the North East of England answered a questionnaire for the study by Professor Jan Illing of Durham University.

The research aimed to assess the impact of bullying on psychological distress.

One in five (19.9%) of respondents had been bullied by colleagues within the past six months, ranging from rarely to daily.

Many more (43%) had witnessed other staff being bullied at work, at least now and then, in the preceding six months, with one in 20 (5%) witnessing it weekly or daily.

The most common complaints were:

  • Unmanageable workloads
  • Withholding key information
  • Public humiliation
  • Being deliberately ignored
  • Being shouted at or the target of an angry outburst.

The respondents worked in secondary care, primary care and mental health NHS trusts and all types of staff were represented, but the largest proportion of respondents were drawn from support staff, trainee doctors and dentists, healthcare assistants and nurses caring for adults.

Only between 2.7% and 14% of staff reported bullying to someone in authority, with a disbelief it would help and a fear of being branded a trouble-maker among the reasons for not coming forward.

Professor Illing, of the Centre for Medical Education Research at Durham University, said other research has already shown that bullying was more prevalent in hierarchical organisations - like the NHS.

She said the recent report into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal found bullying had stopped members of staff from speaking out about poor practice.

Previous research has also shown bullying needs to be tackled from the top, she said.

"Trusts should look at policies and consider what they can do to reduce workplace bullying," she said. "There needs to be a commitment from the chief executive and once that is in place, things are likely to happen."

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "Bullying is always unacceptable and all staff have the right to work free from bullying and harassment.

"In his report into Mid Staffs, Robert Francis QC said the NHS must be more transparent and staff must feel able to openly discuss concerns.

"Hospitals must look at their own figures and take action if there are any issues in their organisation.

"Openness, transparency and supporting staff to speak up when they have concerns is key to protecting patients and achieving high quality care."