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Bullying in the NHS: steep rise in accusations by staff

Nurses need reassurance their concerns will be acted on as figures show reports of victimisation and other forms of bullying have increased in past five years

Nurses need reassurance their concerns will be acted on as figures show reports of victimisation and other forms of bullying have increased in past five years

Reports of bullying in Scotland’s NHS have gone up almost 50% in five years, ‘deeply alarming’ figures reveal.

Some 185 cases of bullying recorded by health boards in 2021-22, up 47% from 126 cases in 2017-18.

There were a total of 724 complaints from staff logged in the past five years , and these included allegations of race or religious discrimination, malicious and intimidating behaviour, bullying by line managers, victimisation, cyber-bullying and ‘derogatory tone’.

Nurses need reassurance their concerns will be acted on as figures show reports of victimisation and other forms of bullying have increased in past five years

Picture: iStock

Reports of bullying in Scotland’s NHS have gone up almost 50% in five years, ‘deeply alarming’ figures reveal.

Some 185 cases of bullying recorded by health boards in 2021-22, up 47% from 126 cases in 2017-18.

There were a total of 724 complaints from staff logged in the past five years, and these included allegations of race or religious discrimination, malicious and intimidating behaviour, bullying by line managers, victimisation, cyber-bullying and ‘derogatory tone’.

RCN Scotland’s associate director Norman Provan expressed his concern, adding more needed to be done to ensure staff feel valued, respected and able to raise concerns.

He said: ‘Health boards must take a proactive approach and do more to reassure staff that concerns will be acted on.’

Culture of bullying

While some boards had seen cases decline, such as NHS Borders, reports of bullying at NHS Tayside went up 94% in the past year – from 18 cases to 35.

NHS Highland’s cases rose 600% in five years, though there was a 12.5% decline this year. The health board was ordered to pay £3.4 million to staff last year after a 2019 independent review found a long-standing culture of bullying.

The findings were echoed by the RCN’s 2021 employment survey, which found that more than a third of nurses in Scotland have seen colleagues behave in a bullying way.

The latest health board figures were obtained by Scottish Conservatives. Their shadow health secretary Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘This dramatic rise in bullying cases in Scotland’s health service is deeply alarming – no one should be subjected to intimidation in the workplace.’

Independent ‘speak up’ guardian

An NHS Tayside spokesperson said: ‘We investigate all allegations of bullying and through regular campaigns ensure that staff are aware of how to raise any concerns and the support mechanisms in place for them.’

An NHS Highland spokesperson said it had invested in culture transformation and had introduced Scotland’s first independent ‘speak up’ guardian service’.

Recent analysis by Nursing Standard looked at the rise in bullying cases reported in the NHS. In England, the number of nurses who experienced bullying by other staff members was 22.1% of the nursing workforce, up from 21.6% in 2019.

The RCN’s 2021 employment survey of more than 9,500 nurses, support workers, students and nursing associates also found just over one third of respondents had experienced bullying or harassment from colleagues in the previous 12 months.

Read our analysis here

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