Staff report 'culture of bullying' at Staffordshire hospital trust

Hundreds of hospital staff revealed they have suffered bullying and harassment at work – and many who have experienced this treatment feel it is because of their ethnicity.

Stafford County Hospital
Stafford County Hospital

A “culture of bullying” at University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust was reported by one in five staff members who took part in an independent survey commissioned by the trust. And one in 10 respondents said they were currently experiencing bullying or harassment.

Hospital bosses have said action is being taken to tackle the issue – and bullying and harassment of staff would not be tolerated.

In total 3,506 people completed an online survey – 31.2 per cent of staff at the trust which runs Royal Stoke Hospital and Stafford’s County Hospital.

One in five respondents said they had suffered bullying or harassment from a colleague during 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.

Almost half the cases of bullying and harassment reported by doctors and dentists from a black or minority ethnic group (BME) were felt to be linked to their ethnicity. This was also the case for 60% of BME respondents who said they faced bullying and harassment from a manager, compared with three per cent of white British respondents.

Other reasons respondents felt they had been bullied or harassed included age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion or work performance,

But just 28 per cent of respondents who said they had suffered this treatment from managers said they would be willing to report concerns, compared to 63 per cent who had experienced bullying or harassment from a member of the public and spoken out.

The findings of the review, which was carried out by charity brap and academic Roger Kline were presented to Wednesday’s UHNM board meeting.

Chairman David Wakefield branded the level of bullying reported in the review “completely unacceptable”.

He said: “I want to make it clear as chair of this trust that it is something we will not tolerate. People will not work here if they do not live by the values.”

Professor Gary Crowe said: “This makes very difficult reading, It’s not a matter the trust is going to take lightly and I want to salute colleagues around the table for not shying away from this, going for an independent review and facing up to the thorny issue here.

“I would like to put on record there is no place for a culture of bullying, harassment or discrimination in the NHS or this trust. It’s not acceptable.

“The board will tackle this issue. We need an environment where people are being heard and listened to.”

Dr Matthew Lewis, the trust’s medical director, has said progress has already been made to tackle the issues raised in the report, including investing in a full-time Freedom to Speak Up Guardian.

Ghiyas Somra, People, Policy, and Research Manager at brap, said: “Our report shows that whilst the Trust is by no means an outlier in relation to this agenda there is still more to do.

“It is incumbent upon leadership in the trust to set out clear expectations about the behaviours they wish to see. Report findings suggest a culture in which doctors don’t always feel respected and supported by their colleagues. This needs to change.

“Our review also shows there is work to do to support nursing and other medical staff who experience abuse and harassment from patients and the public. Unfortunately, the most common ground for this sort of harassment is staff members’ ethnicity. This is coupled with survey findings showing BME staff are 1.6 times more likely than white staff to report experiencing bullying/harassment from a colleague.

“Incivility is currently a hot topic in the sector, but these findings show we can’t forget the importance of tackling ethnicity-based harassment.

“We welcome the fact that the trust has decided to publish these findings to allow an open and informed debate to take place with their staff and local population.

“As the trust benefits from a relatively new leadership team, there is no better time for them to champion this agenda. They have a clear mandate from staff, who want positive change – not only for their own wellbeing but also for patients too.”

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