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Staff bullying: nurse calls for national body to stamp it out ‘once and for all’

Whistle-blower tells MPs of her experiences of bullying in the NHS

Whistle-blower Helene Donnelly tells MPs of her experiences of bullying and intimidation in the NHS and calls for greater sanctions on perpetrators

A new national body should be set up to stamp out bullying in the NHS once and for all, a nurse who blew the whistle on the Stafford Hospital care scandal in the late 2000s has told MPs.

Helene Donnelly, a key witness in the public inquiry into care failings at Stafford Hospital, also said data on staff sickness rates and turnover should be used as early warning signs about workplace culture issues.

National body or steering group would help improve

Whistle-blower Helene Donnelly tells MPs of her experiences of bullying and intimidation in the NHS and calls for greater sanctions on perpetrators

MPs heard of the culture of fear and intimidation in the NHS from nurse Helene Donnelly (top centre), who spoke of her past experiences.
MPs heard of the culture of fear and intimidation in the NHS from nurse Helene Donnelly (top centre), who spoke of her past experiences. Picture: Parliament TV

A new national body should be set up to stamp out bullying in the NHS ‘once and for all’, a nurse who blew the whistle on the Stafford Hospital care scandal in the late 2000s has told MPs.

Helene Donnelly, a key witness in the public inquiry into care failings at Stafford Hospital, also said data on staff sickness rates and turnover should be used as early warning signs about workplace culture issues.

National body or steering group would help improve culture, leadership and stamp out bullying

‘Creating a national body or a steering group with all the relevant stakeholders round the table would offer some tangible traction on improving cultures, compassionate leadership and stamping out bullying once and for all,’ she said.

Ms Donnelly made the comments after recalling the past situation at Stafford Hospital to the Health and Social Care Committee’s session on workplace culture in the NHS and social care this week.

She told MPs ‘We were seeing patients lying in their own excrement, we were seeing patients discharged without proper treatment or examinations, who later died.’

Nurses not encouraged to speak out about intimidation and threatening behaviour

‘There was a real bullying culture of fear, of intimidation. There was not a culture that encouraged and enabled staff to speak up and if they did, as I did. We were bullied, we were threatened.’

Nurse Helene Donnelly recalls the situation at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation trust to MPs
Helene Donnelly. Picture: Parliament TV

Ms Donnelly described being locked in a changing room cubicle by a nurse who feared her behaviour would be reported, and also being threatened that she would be blamed for a drug error.

The nurse, who now works as a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian and ambassador of cultural change, said this kind of bullying and intimidation is still present in the NHS today.

‘Sadly, I still see this, over ten years on, in my national work I do now,’ she said.

‘Across the country I see echoes of what I experienced at Stafford Hospital still happening.’

Call for greater sanctions on bullying NHS staff who refuse to change

The most recent NHS staff survey recorded that 19% of all staff had experienced bullying or harassment from a colleague, and 12.3% had experienced the same from a manager in the past 12 months.

Nurses and midwives fared worse than the total staff average, with 21.6% experiencing bullying or harassment from a colleague, and 13.6% experiencing the same from a manager.

Ms Donnelly called for greater sanctions on bullying staff who refuse to change rather than shuffling them around the NHS.

‘For those individuals and organisations who fail to address this there needs to be greater accountability,’ she said.

‘By the time staff are leaving, by the time they are experiencing significant sickness, both mental and physical, it’s too late.’


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