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Will we overcome the bullying culture in nursing?

Bethann Siviter asks what we have learned from a 2001 article on bullying culture 

Bethann Siviter asks what we have learned from a 2001 article on bullying culture 

In 2001, the article From tall poppies to squashed weeds explained how it’s not just others who oppress nurses and crush their spirits, it’s nurses themselves.


17 years on from the article From tall poppies to squashed weeds, have we learned
anything as a whole profession? Picture: iStock

Feeling unable to turn our frustration and stress against our managers or patients, we turn it against each other. Seventeen years ago this article gave us a warning, and an opportunity. What did we do?

Bullying culture

Statistics on bullied nurses are unclear, but range between 30% and 75%. Bullying can be insidious and difficult to report. Its impact is also insidious: it destroys a person, erodes their confidence and isolates them from support. Bullying can become a culture and a way of working.

Rhian Collins was a mental health nurse who, an inquest found, killed herself after being bullied. Her stress was worsened (according to family) by unsocial hours. The health board’s workforce director said learning from the tragic event would follow.

If we haven’t learned in the past 17 years that we hurt each other, can anyone hope that the tragic death of one nurse will make a difference? It would be nice if it did.

'Like smoking at the nurses’ station, bullying needs to be something we just don’t do. Ever'

We need to stop destroying each other. We're a caring profession. Surely that care must be extended to our colleagues, especially the most vulnerable: students, disabled people, and those with additional stress. Anything that hurts nurses hurts patients. Ultimately, it’s a violation of the code of conduct to bully. We need to make bullying patently unwelcome in nursing.

Nurses who bully might not realise they are bullying. Managers might see it as their leadership style. It might result from stress, and that stress might be exacerbated by workplace conditions. But, none of these things matter. Like smoking at the nurses’ station, bullying needs to be something we just don’t do. Ever. 

How many poppies have to be crushed before we as a profession stand up for each other? When will we learn?


About the author

Bethann Siviter is an independent nursing consultant in the West Midlands

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