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Nurses take the lead in reporting bullying and harassment in the NHS

Nurses are the main group identifying bullying and harassment in the NHS and ensuring patient safety, says National Guardian’s Office


Henrietta Hughes says nurses who are guardians are from all levels of the profession. 

Nurses are taking the lead in identifying bullying and harassment in the NHS and ensuring patient safety.

Data shows more than a third of the 6,500 cases brought to workplace guardians, who are appointed to give whistle-blowers an avenue to raise concerns, came from nurses.

Figures collected by the NHS National Guardian’s Office from more than 500 'freedom to speak up guardians' show nurses were the largest single group to report concerns in 2017-18.

Of the total of 6,500 cases, 45% concerned bullying and harassment and 33% included an element of safety and patient care.

Speaking up

National guardian for the NHS Henrietta Hughes, said: ‘Nurses are the biggest group for speaking up.’

Additionally, 25% of the guardians are themselves nurses. Dr Hughes said the nurses who are guardians came from all levels of the profession, which she said was an asset. ‘There’s a real strength to having a broad network,’ she said.

The guardians are also taking a role in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Range of harassment

Dr Hughes gave evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee on 23 May for its inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace.

Speaking to Nursing Standard afterwards, Dr Hughes said she had asked guardians from England’s 230 trusts whether they had received any cases of sexual harassment. Of those who responded, 12 reported a total of 30 cases of sexual harassment, she said.

Dr Hughes said the cases demonstrated the range of sexual harassment in the NHS, from female on male, male on female, staff on patient, to patient on staff.

Effect on patient care

Dr Hughes urged anyone experiencing sexual harassment to speak up and contact their guardian. Tackling all kinds of bullying and harassment in the NHS is critical not only for its own sake but also because it affects patient care, she said.

‘If people are being bullied, harassed or they are stressed by being under duress, they are not able to deliver fully compassionate care.’

Call to expand role

Dr Hughes said she was pleased with how the guardians system had progressed in the past 12 months – the first year of data collection. ‘Every quarter, the number of issues people have brought up has increased.’

She said she wanted the role to expand into primary care and the independent sector.

‘Nurses want to keep patients safe regardless of where they work.’

Dr Hughes also said in terms of reviewing cases, her office needed to look beyond the organisation where an issue originated to see how it could be used to improve culture and practice in the entire NHS.


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