Tackling bullying in the NHS

Jigsaw puzzle piece

The 2018 NHS Staff Survey shows that bullying and harassment remains a problem in the health sector with one in five staff reporting personally having experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work.

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.

According to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges report Creating supportive environments tackling behaviours that undermine a culture of safety, seven per cent of doctors in training felt they had been bullied or harassed themselves and thirteen per cent reported having witnessed someone else experiencing these behaviours.

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 7 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.

Ambulance colleagues have produced, Tackling bullying in ambulance trusts: a guide for action. The guide contains analysis, advice, case studies and recommendations for how to tackle bullying and create positive cultures in ambulance trusts. It has been created by ambulance colleagues as a call to action to implement changes and improve staff experience. 

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.

Health and wellbeing resources

Resources and good practice

Take a look at our resources and read the good practice we have found from other organisations on how they have tackled bullying. 

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