Discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence in the NHS

The recently published 2019 NHS Staff Survey results have revealed the extent to which discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence are carried out against staff in the NHS.

569 440 staff members directly employed by an NHS organisation took part in the survey, which was conducted between October and December 2019. With well over a million NHS employees, this is the largest staff survey in the UK, and it achieved a 48% response rate.

In the results, 28.5% of NHS staff experienced at least one incident of bullying, harassment or abuse in the last 12 months from patients, their relatives or other members of the public. 12.3% reported bullying, harassment or abuse from managers, and 19.0% from other colleagues.

As a stark insight to current working conditions, 14.9% of NHS staff experienced at least one incident of physical violence in the last 12 months from patients, their relatives or other members of the public. 0.6% reported physical violence from managers, and 1.5% from other colleagues. Meanwhile, 40.3% of those surveyed reported feeling unwell as a result of work related stress in the last 12 months, up from 36.8% in 2016.

In addition, 12.6% of staff reported experiencing discrimination at work. The survey showed that discrimination on the grounds of ethnic background continues to be the most common reason for discrimination reported by NHS staff. Besides ‘other reasons’, gender and age were the next most commonly reported reasons for discrimination. 

In response the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has written to all NHS staff, telling them: ‘being assaulted or abused is not part of the job’.

What are your experiences? Does the NHS have pockets of endemic racism and bullying? Have you personally experienced harassment or violence from patients or colleagues? If so what should be done to eradicate the problem? Leave your comments in the section below. 

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  1. Peter Rimington Consultant

    Fortunately I have never been exposed to bullying or harassment personally but have had to deal with colleagues who have been accused of bullying. It can be very difficult to determine when justified criticism or a reprimand for unsatisfactory job completion turns into bullying or harassment and each case needs to be weighed carefully with consultation with the individuals personally. The old hierarchical system of Consultant on an unassailable perch Lording over all and sundry has gone for good, but there those that still mourn it’s passing and they find them selves in trouble more often than not.

    Verbal harassment verging on abuse from patients or relatives is luckily uncommon where I work (happily munching grapes to the sound of plucked guitars in the Elysian fields of Eastbourne) but when it does happen, the thing to remember is that a soft answer turneth away wrath! Do not lower yourself to the same level as tempers will flare all of us would want to avoid violence which is simply degrading. Even excusing yourself quietly promising to return when the aggressor has calmed down is better than continuing escalation.

    I would advise colleagues to deliver reprimands to juniors in the presence of another person of rank equal to the receiver and to deliver praise where praise is due, express disappointment that the transgressor has let himself down as well as his patients and to avoid direct criticism such as you did this or did not do that as it comes across as aggressive. Much better to make the person realise they have let themselves down rather than let you down.

    And I agree that violence has no place in the NHS, apart from those on the receiving end accessing A&E, but I don’t think I need Matt Hancock to tell me that.

    March 10, 2020 Reply

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