This month’s Occupational Health letters

Bullied colleague is not alone

I read with horror the letter ‘Serial bullies don’t change their spots’
(Occupational Health, April 2003) as I recognised myself in the experiences
described by the author. I too have lived through a mirrored experience.

Prior to our consultant’s arrival, we functioned well as a
multi-disciplinary team and made great strides in developing OH practice.

It was a shock then, after the arrival of the consultant, to suddenly be
labelled as ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘incompetent’. The service stagnated as we were
paralysed by fear.

I repeatedly raised my concerns, and those of my team, about the behaviour
of the consultant. The response from the Trust was that we were a bunch of
difficult women and that they had made a big investment in recruiting a
consultant and would do nothing to jeopardize that. It was not until complaints
came from a senior level outside the Trust that the problem was even

I write this letter in the hope that it is of some support to the colleague
who wrote so bravely; you are not alone.

But it raises the question of how many of us are being subjected to this
treatment? What can we do to bring about change where it is needed? We have no
hope until organisations are prepared to value the contribution of all team
members – nurses, clerical staff, and other specialists, and not just the
doctors. I know of departments where this happens; it is possible.

We each have a valuable contribution to make to our field and deserve mutual
respect. At the very least, as human beings, surely we deserve dignity.

Name and address supplied

Nurses must be nurtured and encouraged

I want to thank the brave, anonymous
nurse who admitted to being bullied, despite being a very senior member of

I found myself in the same situation over a period of five
years and only the powerful, supportive presence of the RCN officer handling
the case prevented me from breaking down physically and mentally.

Unfortunately, we train nurses to be effective problem solvers,
thus unwittingly causing the first dichotomy – ‘this is a problem, therefore, I
must be able to solve it’. In such situations, nurses will always assume,
initially, that it must be their fault; we are not as supportive towards each
other, as a profession, as our medical colleagues.

Why do nurses find it so difficult to believe that they are
skilled, competent professionals who have no higher a rate of ‘failure’ than
any other professional group?

My experience, while successful from a litigious viewpoint, has
left me scarred and hesitant for the last few years.

I moved away from my speciality into an allied field as I felt
I could no longer trust my professional colleagues.

There were, however, some amazing highlights to this sorry
episode. I was absolutely staggered by the unwavering support shown to me by my
clients/patients, who turned out in droves to make statements supporting me.

I have never felt so humbled – what I had viewed as doing the
job, they often saw as the last ‘life-line’. I also found that many of my
colleagues turned out to be friends for life, as we shared a difficult,
emotional experience that changed and shaped us.

I now work as an RCN steward in the hope that I can put a
little bit back into the system that so ably supported me.

I firmly believe that nurses are a precious commodity, who
should be nurtured and encouraged, as too often their value to the ‘business’
is overlooked and underestimated.

It is easy to forget that if the OH professional gets it wrong,
we then create more work for our colleagues in the NHS systems and, indirectly,
affect the nation’s economy.

Name and address supplied

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