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Bullying in the NHS: ‘Nurses must take collective responsibility to help tackle problem’

RCN congress hears nurses’ own accounts of workplace harassment

RCN congress hears nurses’ own accounts of workplace harassment


Kevin Crimmons. Picture: John Houlihan

Nurses must take collective responsibility for tackling bullying at work and creating a more welcoming environment for colleagues, congress heard.

During an emotional debate, a number of nurses shared their personal experience of bullying at the hands of colleagues.

The resolution, condemning a lack of legislation on workplace bullying, and urging RCN council to insist the issue be addressed urgently, was passed by clear majority.

The NHS Staff Survey 2018 found that 22% of nurses and midwives in England reported at least one case of bullying, harassment or abuse from a colleague.


Maggy Heaton. 
Picture: John Houlihan

Fear of reprisals

Maggy Heaton from Lancashire West branch, who proposed the resolution, said bullying was endemic in the NHS.

She added that when bullying was reported, witnesses can become reluctant to speak out for fear of reprisals.

‘No wonder we have a staffing crisis,’ Ms Heaton added. ‘Nurses are aware bullying is rife but they choose self-preservation. But we must take collective responsibility for behaviour in our organisations – any one of us could be the next victim.’

Yorkshire nurse Jane-Elizabeth Tooke said bullying was often covert, which made it hard to combat.

‘Even with whistleblowing policies, people are still fearful about putting their head above the parapet to report issues,’ Ms Tooke said.

She added she knew of a nurse who had taken her own life because of bullying.


Jane-Elizabeth Tooke.
Picture: John Houlihan

Appalling stories

Another speaker, Kevin Crimmons, head of adult nursing at Birmingham University, said he was appalled at the stories that came back from his students about how they were treated on placements.

‘There are days when I feel ashamed of my profession,’ he said.


Savannah Crowder.
Picture: John Houlihan

'Every single one of us should be advocates to make sure the young coming through our profession get the right values. Be kind to people, don’t be judgemental and call people by their names not “the student”’.

Nursing student Savannah Crowder said there were too many stories of students on placement who felt ignored or that they were a burden.

'We have to change this culture,’ Ms Crowder said. ‘We are a caring profession. We’re told to care for our patients but we are not doing it to one another’.

Read all the latest from RCN congress 2019 


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