WORKPLACE bullying will fuel an ongoing recruitment crisis at Lothian hospitals as people leave the NHS, union officials have warned.
Unison claims that unless health chiefs act to stamp out harassment of health workers by colleagues, staff shortages will increase.
The warning follows a survey which found one in ten workers employed in the region’s hospitals claimed to have been bullied or harassed in the past year.
Victims were unwilling to report problems because they feared nothing would be done or they would be branded "troublemakers".
Unions fear this view is masking the true extent of the problems, suggesting that bullying and harassment is even more widespread. The survey also showed that more than half of staff were stressed in their jobs, with most reportedly swamped by heavy workloads.
Politicians backed the concerns today, warning patients would undoubtedly suffer if bullying made an already "absolutely urgent" recruitment crisis in Edinburgh worse. Health chiefs, who are due to discuss the issues this week, claimed the situation was "pretty positive" in most cases, but pledged to take any complaints "very seriously".
However, Mick McGahey, Unison branch secretary at Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Edinburgh, Astley Ainslie and other smaller hospitals, said: "I think the situation is actually worse than it seems from the survey.
"Clearly the trust will try and get the most [positive finding] out of it that they can because they are responsible for how people are feeling. They have had some warning shots now. If they don’t act they will suffer the consequences. People will not work for them."
Margo MacDonald, SNP Lothians MSP, said the bullying statistics were extremely worrying. "A very high percentage of people have reported that they were bullied," she said.
"Recruitment in Edinburgh is absolutely urgent now. It is bound to have a detrimental effect on patients if hospitals are run below what we know to be an advisable ratio of staff [because workers are put off by bullying and harassment]."
Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat Edinburgh West MSP and convener of the health committee, said the survey showed a culture of secrecy was "endemic" in the NHS which prevented people from speaking out.
She added: "I think it is more of a retention problem than a recruitment problem. The majority of staff are not subjected to harassment or bullying, but if someone does experience that we would be likely to see people leaving the service."
One former NHS trainee, who quit after claiming to have suffered racial discrimination by more senior staff at city hospitals, today said he was "shocked, but not surprised" by the extent of bullying problems. The worker, who did not want to be named, said: "In my experience they [the authorities] were disorganised, complacent and unsupportive. They are keen to produce new initiatives, but it remains to be seen whether they will actually do anything to improve things."
More than 6000 NHS Lothian staff answered the survey of workplace standards to find out what they thought of working conditions. One in ten reported experiencing bullying or harassment in the past year, generally verbal intimidation. But 59 per cent did not report such incidents. Just over 50 per cent felt stressed at work, with 82 per cent blaming excessive workloads.
David Bolton, trust director of primary and community service development, said the overall picture of the trust as shown in the survey was "pretty positive".
However, he added: "We take all allegations of bullying and harassment very seriously and will be discussing this at the next trust [board] meeting this week."