One in Five Nurses Bullied at Work

One in five Scots nurses has been bullied or harassed at work in the past year by a colleague, resulting in staff leaving the professions. Presenting what it says are “shocking” findings, the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland said 21% of nurses have suffered abuse from fellow staff and managers.According to the college, the victimisation has led to a quarter of nurses trying to change jobs, while almost 10% had given up their jobs as a result.The figures are revealed in a report called Breaking Point.

It shows that most bullying north of the border, 29%, is carried out by colleagues, closely followed by supervisors and senior managers. Tactics include belittling staff in front of others, consistently refusing them promotion and even physical and verbal abuse. A quarter of respondents in the survey said they had been bullied at least once a month.

The extent of the problem is revealed at a time when nurses are already struggling to cope with staff shortages and aggression shown by members of the public.

The survey defined bullying as being treated in a way which caused humiliation, offence or distress.

Nursing leaders last night called for tougher policies to tackle the problem. There is already a policy of zero tolerance to aggression and violence by patients and the public towards NHS staff and they want that extended.

Lynn Masson, professional officer for the RCN Scotland, said: “We are asking for zero tolerance on bullying and harassment which can have just as traumatic an effect as someone punching you in the face.

“The punch lasts a couple of seconds but the effect lasts much longer. Bullying and harassment can effectively change people’s lives and their careers, and it is not acceptable in any shape or form.”

She said bullying had been a culture in the NHS and, because everyone is under pressure to deliver, there was almost an acceptance of it.
The survey shows the biggest percentage of bullies were fellow nurses.

Ms Masson said: “The bullying could be sexual innuendo, it could be derogatory comments about someone’s size or physical appearance, swearing, undermining them in front of their colleagues or giving them less favourable shifts or tasks to do.

“Some bullying is so subtle it goes almost unnoticed, but when the picture starts to build up it can be very distressing with horrendous implications.
“There can be an increase in sickness and absence, with some people unable to go back to work. They don’t just leave nursing. They feel incapable of doing any job because their confidence is totally destroyed.”

Jane McCready, chairwoman of RCN Scotland, said the situation was unacceptable and action needed to be taken to protect the profession.
“Nurses are trained to deal with stressful situations as part of their working day,” she said.

“However, it is unacceptable that many are placed under further pressure because of intimidation from their managers or colleagues. No-one should have to work under such conditions.

“Employers need to retain nurses, not have them leave because they feel they been left with no other option.”

A Scottish Executive spokesman said that bullying of nursing staff would not be tolerated.

“No-one should have to put up with bullying from colleagues and we would encourage all NHS staff to report incidences of bullying whenever they see it or experience it. NHS Scotland has clear guidelines on eliminating bullying . . . boards should have trained individuals who are fully knowledgeable about the policy and procedure and who can provide support and assistance to any member of staff who believes they are being bullied or harassed.”