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The cost of bullying to the NHS

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 Department of Health 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.

The request was " 'Please disclose copies of all unpublished material relating to bullying of staff within the NHS. This should include but is not limited to copies of any reports and analyses into the extent of bulling in the NHS. Please search for this information since 1 January 2003 to the date you answer this request.'

Response from the Department of Health.

The Department carried out a detailed trawl of information and identified a report entitled 'The Business Strategy for Equality and Human Rights in the NHS, Mental Health and Social Care'. The report was commissioned by the Department of Health and prepared by Performance Through Inclusion Ltd, an external equality and diversity company. The report was submitted to the Department in March 2005. Parts of the report contain an analysis of bullying and harassment in the NHS and therefore fall within the scope of the request.

A copy of the relevant extracts of the report are attached and information that falls outside the scope of the request has been redacted.The Department of Health wishes to make it clear that the report was only ever intended for internal use and has never been published. The report does not represent Government policy and the Department of Health has never endorsed its findings. In fact, we have reservations about the integrity of some of the data used in the report. For example, the estimate of the total cost of bullying and harassment is stated as 325m per annum. However, this figure also includes the cost of bullying of NHS staff by patients and their families and this is not explicit in the report.

It must also be made clear that the figures contained in the report are not official Government figures and cannot be regarded as such. The only official national data on bullying and harassment is collected by the Healthcare Commission as part of the annual NHS Staff Survey. The Department of Health does not collect any data on the rates or costs of bullying to the NHS.

Having said that, we do recognise that tackling bullying and harassment in the NHS must be a priority if we are to make the NHS an employer of choice. That is why there is a significant work programme being taken forward by NHS Employers to help NHS organisations tackle bullying and harassment in the workplace.*

The BBC report went onto say " 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".

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".

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."

Source BBC News and Department of Health

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