NHS could save millions by tackling workplace bullying

Cutting the level of bullying and harassment in the NHS by just 1% would save the health service £9m annually, according to internal health service estimates due to be published next month.

The estimates are contained in a report, based on employee surveys and absence figures across the NHS, that will be presented to the Department of Health at the end of October, Personnel Today has learned.

Surinder Sharma, national director for equality and human rights at the Department of Health, said that a nationwide framework was needed to define the roles and responsibilities of staff and their managers in order to tackle this “critical issue”.

Sharma believes much of the blame lies with those in charge.

“Managers walk away a lot from these [problems] in my experience,” he said.

A separate survey of 217,000 NHS staff, by the Healthcare Commission, found that 10% had been bullied and harassed by colleagues in the 12 months to March 2005. This figure rose to 37% when abuse from patients or their relatives was included.

Matt Witheridge, operations manager at anti-bullying charity the Andrea Adams Trust, said that bullying was an “enormous problem” in the NHS.
“It is one of the worst hit employment sectors – mainly due to its hierarchical structure,” he said. “Bullying is almost like a rite of passage.”

In an attempt to address the issue, NHS Employers, the body responsible for workforce conditions in the health service, is planning to launch a framework next year to help all NHS trusts to develop anti-bullying policies. Julian Topping, head of workplace health and employment at NHS Employers, said: “Any form of bullying or harassment of NHS staff, whether by colleagues, patients or relatives, is entirely unacceptable, and we must do what we can to prevent it.”

John Taylor, chief executive of conciliation service Acas, said: “Managers need to realise the impact bullying has on staff – both the victims and observers – and prioritise workforce welfare.”

The DoH would not comment on the exact details of the report ahead of its publication at the end of October.

The extent of the problem

  • 10% of NHS staff have been bullied and harassed by colleagues
  • 1% of NHS staff have been physically assaulted by fellow employees
  • 42% of workers across the UK would not report incidences of bullying in the workplace
  • 39% of UK managers say they have been bullied in the past three years
  • 70% of managers believe misuse of power or position is the number one form of bullying

Sources: Healthcare Commission, Mercer HR Consulting, Chartered Management Institute

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