Tackling bullying in the NHS

Jigsaw puzzle piece

The 2017 NHS Staff Survey shows that bullying and harassment remains an extensive problem in the health sector with 24 per cent of all NHS staff (one in four people) having reported that they have experienced bullying in some way. Other research has show 29.9 per cent of all NHS staff say they have suffered some psychological stress due to bullying behaviours.

Research led by the University of Leicester analysed survey data showing that 21 per cent of mental health workers had been bullied and eight per cent discriminated against by their managers in the previous year. Of these, 86 per cent had gone sick in the year before the survey for an average of eleven days in total.

Over thirteen per cent of trainee doctors reported being victims of bullying and harassment in their training post according to a report from General Medical Council.

Roger Kline's report, Bullying: the silent epidemic in the NHS, published in 2013, reported that a quarter of staff in the NHS felt they were bullied and the rate of reported bullying has doubled in just four years.  Staff previously surveyed said less than half of cases of bullying, harassment or abuse cases were reported and the proportion of cases being reported is falling, down from 54 per cent in 2004 to 44 per cent now (2013).  Sir Ian Kennedy, former departing chair of the Healthcare Commission (now CQC), said bullying was one of the biggest untalked about problems in the delivery of good care to patients.

In December 2016, former Department of Health (DH) minister, Ben Gummer chaired a roundtable of NHS leaders and academic experts after which he asked the Social Partnership Forum (SPF)  to develop a plan to tackle bullying in the NHS.  On the 7th December 2016 the Tackling Bullying Call to Action was launched.  Leaders across the NHS are committed to making a difference by promoting supportive cultures where staff can flourish and problem behaviours such as bullying are tackled. The NHS Social Partnership Forum (SPF), which brings together Department of Health (DH) Ministers and officials, NHS employing organisations, NHS England, Health Education England, NHS Improvement, NHS Employers and trade unions is leading this initiative, and has developed a better understanding of the most effective interventions to tackle bullying, by working with academics to explore the evidence and gathering experiences from within the NHS and beyond.

What is bullying and harassment? 

ACAS define bullying and harassment as:

Harassment is unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident. The key is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual.


Promoting a positive culture to tackling bullying

Line managers are one of the best tools to support employees' health and wellbeing, especially when dealing with any sensitive issues. Read these top tips for your organisation.


Key updates

This page will be updated with any key information from NHS Employers.

Case studies

Case studies and good practice

Read good practice from other organisations, on how they have tackled bullying. 

WLG publications

Tools and resources

Find out what tools and resources are available to support you in your work to tackle bullying. 

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