Reports of NHS Bullying Culture 'Deeply Distressing'

Peter Russell

February 13, 2020

The Government said reports that health professionals were sometimes reduced to tears in a culture of NHS bullying and harassment were "deeply distressing".

The NHS employers' group called the results 'startling'.

The Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) said medical staff were regularly reduced to tears in overworked and understaffed hospital wards.

It compiled stories from 602 junior doctors, some of which were featured in a report by the Daily Mirror.

Pregnant Doctor Fainted

The anecdotes included:

  • A pregnant doctor, who was told that pregnancy was 'her choice', after she fainted during a 15 hour shift while unable to access water

  • A doctor who explained how a junior doctor hanged themselves in a cupboard whilst on shift, and was not found for 3 days

  • A doctor who was denied a change of clothes into scrubs after having a miscarriage at work, despite her trousers being soaked in blood

Dr Rinesh Parmar, an anaesthetic doctor, and chair of DAUK, said: "These heart breaking stories from across the country show the extent of bullying and harassment that doctors face whilst working to care for patients.

"Heart wrenching examples of being denied access to tap water after the tragic loss of a patient just reveals how heartless and inhumane conditions can be for doctors working on the frontline."

The Mirror report included a health professional who was accused of taking surgical scrubs to cope with bleeding after having a miscarriage at work.

Another reported being reprimanded when she rinsed her face with water after a patient died in her care.

'Overstretched Resources'

The DAUK said the stories showed that promises and assurances of a change in culture had not translated into NHS policy.

Dr Natalie Ashburner, lead for wellbeing and psychiatry at the DAUK, said: "It is extremely disappointing that doctors are reporting a lack of access to basic resources such as drinking water at hospitals all over the UK. The effect of these inconsiderate, short-sighted, and bureaucratic decisions on both the physical and mental wellbeing of staff who already work long antisocial shifts under tremendous stress in a climate of unprecedented demand for already stretched resources should not be underestimated.

"NHS trusts must urgently take measures to make the mental and physical wellbeing of doctors a priority by addressing the issues we have highlighted, creating a compassionate culture and remembering that doctors are human too."

'Startling to Read'

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, commented: "These reports are startling to read. This kind of behaviour cannot be acceptable in any organisation, and especially in one that has care and compassion at its heart.

“We know that workforce shortages and extreme pressure on staff can cause increased stress and frayed tempers, leading to poor behaviour, but this cannot be excused.

"We can take some comfort in the knowledge that the health service and the medical profession are in a strong position to address bullying. We have agreed with all our trade unions, including those representing doctors, the work going on across the system that aims to improve culture and leadership, as well as developing behaviours based on civility and respect. This work will be supported by the delivery of the NHS People Plan."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "These accounts are deeply distressing. This type of behaviour has no place in our NHS and nobody should have to face bullying or harassment in the workplace.

"We take these kinds of reports very seriously and we're committed to making the NHS a better place to work, by ending discrimination, bullying and harassment and making it even easier for staff to raise concerns."

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