NHS Lothian sees bullying cases rise by 33 per cent over five years

Recorded incidents of bullying in NHS Lothian have increased by 33 per cent in the past five years, new figures show.

By Ian Swanson
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 8:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 8:11 am

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There were 33 cases in 2017/18, dropping to 25 in 2018/19 but then rising steadily to 30 in 2019/20, 35 in 2020/21 and 44 in 2021/22.

Freedom of Information responses to the Conservatives from health boards across Scotland revealed the total number of bullying cases had risen from 126 in 2017/18 to 185 in 2021/22, an increase of 47 per cent.

In NHS Tayside, cases jumped from 11 in 2017/18 to 35 in 2021/22 and in NHS Highland the number increased seven-fold from five to 35.

According to the data, complaints were made about race and religion harassment and discrimination; insulting, malicious and intimidating behaviour; hostile working environments; bullying behaviours by line managers; derogatory tones; victimisation; cyber-bullying; and threatening behaviour.

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said it was concerning that for the past four years there had been a consistent year-on-year increase in the figures here.

He said: "I have raised these concerns over the years and we have not necessarily seen the action from the government or health board to give NHS professionals the confidence to come forward and their complaints will be taken seriously.”

NHS Lothian saw a 33 per cent rise in bullying over the past five years.

He said staff were working “incredibly hard” in a stressful environment which could lead to staff feeling bullied. But he said: “It is clear the government and health board need to do more to address this.”

NHS Lothian was engulfed by a bullying scandal 10 years ago when an investigation found an "undermining, intimidating, demeaning, threatening and hostile working environment" at the health board.

It said the evidence it had uncovered painted "an extremely disturbing picture” of the culture of some parts of NHS Lothian and concluded the intimidating approach originated “from the top level".

James Barbour stood down as chief executive days before the report's interim findings were delivered. He left with a full pension and did not face any disciplinary proceedings or financial penalties.

The investigation had been ordered by the then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon after a previous probe into the manipulation of waiting times at the health board heard allegations of bullying and an oppressive management culture where staff were put under pressure to cheat the figures to avoid delivering "bad news".

New leadership was brought in to change the culture, but in 2018 another report found evidence of bullying and harassment linked to the doctoring of emergency waiting times at St John's Hospital in Livingston.

Responding to the latest figures, Janis Butler, NHS Lothian human resources director, said: “We encourage our staff to raise any concerns with us as part of our normal business processes, which includes a confidential Speak Up service. Any allegation of bullying or any form of inappropriate conduct is taken very seriously and investigated. We also have formal Whistleblowing procedures in place in line with the national standards".

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Ministers have made clear to health boards that bullying and harassment is unacceptable, and we expect them to ensure any reported incidents are taken seriously and fully investigated. Everyone who works in our Health Service must have the confidence to raise any concerns they may have, particularly in these unprecedented and challenging times.”

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