Nurse's death by suicide should serve as warning to profession

Toxic workplace and 'put up and shut up' culture still pervades the NHS

Toxic workplace and 'put up and shut up' culture still pervades the NHS

RCN's Ed Freshwater says bullying issues are still not being taken seriously enough.
Picture: Chris Nickerson

Toxic work environments and an NHS culture of ‘put up and shut up’ about bullying behaviour is affecting nurses’ mental health to a dangerous degree, says the RCN.

Last week, an inquest ruled that a mental health nurse, Rhian Collins, from Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea had deliberately taken her own life.

Mother-of-two Ms Collins complained she had been bullied, sworn at and given the worst night shifts before her suicide in March this year.

She had also told her family that colleagues would verbally abuse her and make her life at the hospital 'very difficult'.

Bullying behaviour unacceptable

The Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, which runs the mental health hospital where Ms Collins worked, said bullying behaviour 'of any kind' was unacceptable and it had invited Ms Collin’s family to meet to discuss the ‘issues raised during the inquest into her tragic death.’

Need help?

  • If you or anyone you know have been affected by the issues in this story, call Samaritans on 116 123. The line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week

  • If you are a nurse or nursing student experiencing a mental health concern, you can contact the RCN's confidential counselling service on 0345 772 6100

But RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater said the issue of bullying was still not being taken seriously enough across the NHS.

Mr Freshwater said despite processes and procedures being in place, he had never met anyone who had complained of bullying through official channels and thought it had been handled properly.

He said: ‘There are a huge number of nurses who just “put up and shut up” and part of the job is seen as needing to just knuckle down and get on with it.

‘If you “cause trouble” by reporting bullying, often you will get a reputation as a troublemaker – that is how harm comes to people, really.

‘Anyone who complains is branded a troublemaker, but that in itself is a form of bullying.’

'Terrible for self-care'

Mr Freshwater said the needs of nurses had been put aside in recent years as problems with ‘understaffing, short staffing and illegal staffing’ had worsened in the health service.

‘Anyone who finishes on time on a ward is seen as lazy – if you are not killing yourself for the job you are seen as not caring and compassionate enough – we have to martyr ourselves.

‘As a profession, we are absolutely terrible for self-care – we are the worst at caring for ourselves.

‘Part of that is saying no and saying I am taking my break, or finishing work on time at 8pm and it is not my job to make sure there is cover – the system is at fault.’

Mr Freshwater said teams were becoming fractured and team work lost because people feel ‘consistently stressed out’, without time to sit down and share concerns or grievances in a helpful way.

‘A team that is close and well-bonded is going to care for each other, cover for each other and collaborate, but when people are overwhelmed overworked and overstressed it very quickly can become toxic.’

Anti-bullying campaign

Last week the RCN announced its support for an anti-bullying in healthcare campaign set up by the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh (RSCed).

RCSEd president Michael Lavelle-Jones said: 'Bullying and undermining affect all parts of the NHS workforce regardless of grade, seniority and experience.

'Around one quarter of all NHS workers experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from staff in the past 12 months, so change will only come through collaborative and coordinated action.'

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