NHS Lothian bans workers from complaining

The new guidelines for NHS staff have been branded an 'absolute joke'. Picture: Greg Macvean
The new guidelines for NHS staff have been branded an 'absolute joke'. Picture: Greg Macvean
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HEALTH chiefs have banned moaning at work under new guidelines today dubbed “bonkers” by patient groups.

The renewed NHS Lothian values – drawn up in the wake of the bullying scandal that engulfed the board two years ago – detail how staff are expected to behave.

Under the new guidelines, care and compassion is actively encouraged while moaning is judged as “unacceptable” for all staff.

The new ethos – designed to shape the behaviour of employees at every level from consultants through to cleaners – aims to stop staff becoming 
demoralised.

But critics argue it could have the opposite effect at a time when the frontline is already being “pushed to the limit.”

One NHS insider called the values an “absolute joke.” She said: “They’ll be telling us what we can have for lunch next.

“This job is getting more and more stressful, we’re being asked to do more than ever with less resources, but we’re not supposed to moan about it.

“It’s fair enough that they don’t want us doing it in front of patients but when it’s amongst ourselves we should be able to say what we like.

“I love my job but sometimes we all have to let off steam. The idea people might be listening out for it is just ridiculous.”

Health bosses launched an extensive consultation with staff following damning reports that revealed an “undermining, intimidating, demeaning, threatening and hostile working environment” existed in areas of NHS Lothian early last year.

The external findings concluded a “culture of bullying” was responsible for 
under-pressure staff deliberately manipulating waiting list figures to hit targets.

Since then, more than 150 meetings and workshops have been held, involving nearly 3000 staff over 18 months, to come up with a new set of values which include caring, pride and teamwork.

Hospital employees, management and staff working out in the community are expected to sign up to the behaviour pledge, approved at an NHS Lothian board meeting yesterday.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scottish Patients’ Association, said she was “gobsmacked” by the move which she insisted undermines staff.

She said: “Maybe if the board got their act together, the staff wouldn’t have to moan. They need to look at the root causes of it rather than simply telling the staff they can’t complain.

“If you don’t moan, you’re not healing, it can help to share problems and won’t make for a happy workplace if they’re banned from doing it.”

She criticised the length of time it had taken to come up with the proposals, which, she added, seemed obvious for anyone working within the health service.

She said: “I’m all for talking to staff but we shouldn’t have to sit down for 150 meetings to come up with this.

“If they don’t know they should be caring and compassionate working for the NHS, then they’re in the wrong job.

“These staff work for the public and the public should be getting value for money, have refresher meetings by all means but it shouldn’t take all this time.”

Unison rep Tom Waterson said staff were entitled to air their grievances in the workplace. He said: “You’d have thought that these values would be entrenched in the service anyway and not need to be pointed out.

“We always expect our members to highlight problems which exist in the service as a result of savage cuts or whatever, I don’t view this as moaning. If people have legitimate concerns then these should be brought to the fore.”

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said: “No doubt many people who hear of this will wonder what they had as guiding principles and values before this. I suppose at least it shows they are taking seriously some of the complaints being laid against them.”

On the issue of banning moaning, she added: “It will be interesting to see how this will be treated by nurses doing a night shift on a busy ward. Moaning is something you can expect in a stressful industry and at present the healthcare industry is the most stressful, what with targets and constant evaluations.”

Others have welcomed the move as taking positive steps to heal the divide between managers and people working on the shop floor.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We demanded NHS Lothian take swift action on the bullying culture and I’m pleased to see they’ve taken the matter seriously.

“What’s important now is we see a definite change in behaviour, and we won’t know the success of this until it plays out.

“However, there are still those who have since left the organisation who have very serious questions to answer as to why this was allowed to happen in the first place.”

NHS bosses now plan on speaking to union representatives and HR staff to implement the strategy.

An NHS Lothian spokeswoman said the measures were designed to encourage people to speak out about concerns so action could be taken.

She said: “It’s not about just moaning at work, it’s about this ethos of feeling it’s alright to complain about something without making an attempt to make things better.

“We want people to recognise these values and feel confident to say to colleagues – at any level – if they are behaving in a way that’s not in line with them.”

Also banned:

Some examples of behaviour and conduct which were highlighted as not being acceptable:

• Moaning and demoralising others without making an attempt to make things better;

• Criticising colleagues or disagreeing with them in front of patients and relatives;

• Imposing personal beliefs, judgements and opinions on patients, families or staff;

• Blaming others or other departments for mistakes to patients and relatives;

• Wearing inappropriate dress or having an unprofessional appearance;

• Being unwilling to consider new ideas for improving service;

• Failing to speak up about unsafe practices and reporting them to line managers;

• Failing to treat patients and staff with dignity and respect.

Board forced to accept terms to create new wards

HEALTH bosses have been forced to accept the terms demanded by the private company which runs Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for a deal to create two new wards at the hospital.

NHS Lothian wants to spend £4 million to convert redundant offices into two new wards with room for an extra 31 patients in a bid to avoid a repeat of last winter’s beds crisis.

But a legal wrangle with Consort, which built and operates the hospital under a private finance initiative, has led to delays,

Now the health board has agreed Consort should have a five-year amnesty from “deficiency points” which are normally imposed if things go wrong.

If enough deficiency points are accumulated over a set period of time, NHS Lothian is entitled to cancel its contract with Consort.

The banks behind Consort demanded the points amnesty because they say the building work adds risk and if Consort lost the contract the banks would have to find another operator which would mean losing money in the meantime.

However, the amnesty will mean that the banks will not be aware of problems which arise.

NHS Lothian sources told the Evening News earlier this month that Consort – which nets £60 million a year from its PFI deal on the infirmary – had the health board “over a barrel”.

And Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie accused the company of “financial blackmail”.

A report to the board said: “There is an urgent requirement to deliver the additional beds.

“Any challenge to whether Consort have a contractual right to an amnesty is likely to be expensive, time consuming and would significantly delay these essential developments.”

Last winter hundreds of patients were stuck in emergency departments on trolleys or treated in inappropriate areas due to a lack of space. Office space above accident and emergency will be converted into new general ­medicine and ­orthopaedics wards.

Chief executive Tim Davison denied the agreement with Consort would set a precedent.