RCN congress

Keep a diary, emails, appraisal notes – advice for nurses being bullied

Bullying in healthcare organisations is not only detrimental to nurses' wellbeing but is putting patients at risk, a fringe session at RCN congress heard.

Speaking to nurses and healthcare assistants in Bournemouth, former NHS manager Ann Smart said that 'bullying is subtle, slow and insidious' and is a 'real patient safety issue' because of the effect it has on staff.

Ms Smart, who left her job in 2012 after she was bullied by a manager, raised a grievance that led to the manager being dismissed. However, she said it is not easy for nurses to take on bullies because they might fear losing their jobs. In her case, she was able to take early retirement as part of her exit settlement.

The pressure of being bullied was so great that she became ill.

'I felt very isolated and alone,' she said. 'I did not want to go off sick as I wanted to be there for the patients, but I did in the end.'

Last year, Ms Smart submitted a resolution at RCN congress calling for a greater focus on the effects of bullying on patients. She said bullying has become part of the culture of the NHS.

She told RCNi yesterday: 'People do not report bullying out of fear for their careers. We want a healthy, confident and well workforce if we want our patients to be safe. If nurses are scared to speak up, they simply leave the organisation and patients are still at risk because nothing is done.'

She told the fringe session that a high turnover of staff can indicate a bullying culture. Other signs include staff losing their sense of initiative and taking regular sickness absence when they previously had not taken any sick leave.

Ms Smart advised nurses who are being bullied to keep notes. 'Keep a diary about where you were, who was there, what time and date, what was said and what the outcome was because it is all evidence. Otherwise, you won't remember what happened.'

RCN learning and development facilitator Deborah Haynes said, in addition to a diary, victims of bullying should keep copies of emails, appraisal meeting notes and letters. She said they should note comments in a diary early on in the bullying and not wait for the issue to escalate.

'If you think something is not right when someone says something, the chances are it is not right. Bullies do not go from 0-16 on the bullying scale overnight. Bullying is something they build up to doing gradually.'

She said nurses could always respond to bullying by making a direct approach to the bully in writing. She said if that doesn't work, they should speak to their RCN steward before making a formal complaint about the bully.