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The cost of bullying to the NHS

By Nicola Beckford
BBC News

Nurses can be vulnerable to bullying as they often work alone

Bullying and harassment cost the NHS more than £325 million a year, money the Department of Health (DoH) admits could have been spent on healthcare.

A report commissioned by the DoH describes the cost of bullying as 'immense'. It concludes that although there are many individuals committed to driving the equality agenda across the health service, discrimination is still widespread.

The document was compiled in March 2005 and was obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act. It estimates that a minimum of £229 million is spent covering the cost of sickness absence and £96 million on replacing staff who have left their jobs due to bullying.

'Enhanced risk'

The report suggests that some work situations are particularly associated with an enhanced risk of violence and that the NHS has many of these characteristics.

Healthcare staff can be vulnerable as they work alone or at night. Having a high customer service focus can also lead organisations like the NHS to an increased risk of psychological violence in the form of bullying.

Ruth Johnston was a senior midwife in the NHS who became the victim of bullying when she queried her salary after starting a new job.

"I was in a management position and I had my desk taken away, I had my office taken away. I was asked to go back into uniform and had demeaning comments made."

'Too old'

Ms Johnston says she was humiliated and belittled in front of her colleagues and overloaded with work. She claims that a booking on a training course was cancelled because she was too old and attending would not be value for money. She says that bullying led to depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

Ms Johnston's experience is an all too frequent story according to trade unions.


Rachel Maskell, a national officer at Unite the Union believes that the target driven nature of the NHS has led to an increase in bullying.

"In the health service, we carried out a survey among community practitioners and we found that about 50% of the workforce either witnessed bullying or experienced bullying over a 12 month period.

"That clearly is a very high percentage. Therefore we recognise the fact that management need to put in proper systems to address this issue."

In a statement the Department of Health said:

“We recognise that tackling bullying must be a priority if we are to make the NHS an employer of choice.

"That is why we are working with NHS Employers to tackle this issue by helping Trusts implement anti-bullying and harassment policies."

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