More than half of hospital staff at one of the UK’s largest hospital trusts have said that they feel bullied or harassed at work.
An independent study into the workplace culture among hospitals under the Birmingham University Hospital Trust (UHB) found that the majority of staff feel as though their workplace is unsafe in terms of wellbeing, with 53 per cent of respondents saying they felt ‘bullied’ or ‘harassed’.
The same study, dubbed ‘The Culture Review and Report’ also found that of the 53 per cent who said they felt unsafe, only 16 per cent felt that their concerns would be dealt with by the trust.
An excerpt from the report reads: “For many of the staff who engaged with the review, their experience of working in the Trust is compromised, with a range of concerns. These include not feeling valued and respected, often not feeling safe at work, and not connected to the wider organisation in which they serve.”
Another excerpt from the report details how: “It was highlighted throughout discussions that there is a limited effort made to promote compassion between colleagues. This triangulated with the survey result where 53 per cent of respondents answered, ‘yes’ to ‘Have you ever felt bullied or harassed in the workplace’.”
The main two sources of bullying and harassment were reported as coming from immediate line management, as well as local leaders and colleagues. The review team received several reports from staff who were fearful to make a formal complaint or seek well-being support as they believed it could worsen the situation.
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The report, commissioned by the trust but carried out by the Value Circle, encompassed all seven of the facilities under the trust’s remit. The review team conducted 75 listening groups and drop-in sessions across trust sites with 550 participants.
Part of the survey posited the statement ‘I feel proud to work at UHB.’ Of those who took part, 32 per cent of staff reported that they strongly disagreed or disagreed, whilst 21% had no opinion on this statement. Less than half the Trust staff responding to the survey declared a positive response.
In response to the statement “I feel respected by UHB as an employer” 29 per cent said that they disagreed, whilst 19 per cent said that they strongly disagreed. However, sentiment was far more positive on the colleague level, with 46 per cent of respondents saying they felt respected by members of their team. 19 per cent said that they strongly agreed.
Responding to the study, a spokesperson for the trust said: “The review also highlights how, over a considerable period of time – in different ways and for different reasons – some unacceptable behaviours and poor working practices have developed across the different sites making up the Trust, which have caused many of our staff to feel isolated, discriminated against, unsafe and undervalued.
“We want to apologise for this and to commit to creating the best possible place to work, which supports all staff and enables them to flourish.”
The report comes as National Health Service (NHS) staff across the UK begin a season of intermittent strike action, including the first-ever joint strike action in the organisation’s history. It also follows a previous report released less than a month before that identified a serious culture of sexual harassment among surgeons in the NHS.
Other problems related to transparency when it came to staff advancement. In response to the statement ‘feel that career progression at UHB is a fair and transparent process’, overall, 32 per cent said that they strongly disagreed, and 25 per cent disagreed.
The spokesperson for the trust added: “The review clearly underlines the scale of the challenge we have ahead of us, which will take time to deliver; taking time for the impact of those changes to be felt by those that need to feel them most, but there are also some immediate and shorter-term actions, we will take to enable change to happen.
“The review sets out four fundamental shifts as recommendations, which are all fully accepted by the Trust Board. An associated action plan and progress tracker will be produced, discussed and monitored in detail at the People and Culture Committee and reported on at public board meetings going forward.”
Those recommendations include a “shift to openness and transparency.” Calling on the trust to publicly acknowledge the depth of feeling, challenge, and concerns that staff have raised in the report. It also calls for a shift towards valuing staff, ensuring culture directly connects to effective patient care, and ensuring a safe working environment.
Regional regulator, Healthwatch Birmingham and Solihull said that the report is “disturbing,” calling the atmosphere at the trust “a culture of fear.”
Chair of Healthwatch Birmingham and Solihull, Richard Burden, said: “This culture of fear, coupled with the perception of a Board and management that is at best disinterested and at worst actively hostile to staff raising concerns, clearly has serious ramifications for patient safety if dangerous practices are allowed to continue and individuals not brought to account.
“While Healthwatch is not suggesting anything as extreme as the Lucy Letby case has happened at UHB, it is also apparent that the obstructive attitude of NHS managers when staff raised the alarm was a contributing factor in allowing her horrifying crimes to continue.
“This attitude must be confronted and eliminated wherever it occurs across the entire NHS.”
The report concluded that it is critical that the Trust and its Board understand that these recommendations cannot be managed as just another programme of work.
Adding that they are a fundamental shift in approach, attitude and understanding as to how to support a progressive and positive culture for the 22,000 staff, and the patients they serve.