London bullying suggests NHS management malaise

A new NHS report suggests that working in a London teaching hospital can't be much fun...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With the Government looking to cut billions off the public spending bill in the next couple of years, it will be hoping that better management of the NHS might trim a few zeroes off the total. But if the London-based King’s College Hospital Trust is anything to go by, there could be a long way to go: researchers discovered that bullying and harassment of staff in London teaching hospitals was way above the average. And apparently managers are the worst culprits...

The research found that staff who had been bullied by their managers – as opposed to their fellow workers – tended to suffer from higher levels of stress, had greater levels of job dissatisfaction, and were more likely to want to leave. Not surprising, perhaps - though it’s particularly bad news in hospitals, where it will probably have a direct impact on the quality of patient care. And this bullying can be a lot more insidious than stealing people’s lunch money, flushing their heads down the toilet or even just verbal abuse – it could even mean setting impossible goals that your people have no chance of achieving.

Although the study is only referring to one particular Trust, anecdotal evidence suggests that this isn’t an uncommon problem in the NHS – indeed, some suggest it’s almost became part of the culture (we'd love to know your views on that, if any of you have experienced it first-hand). Apparently this study has prompted King’s to launch a new initiative to stamp out bullying, and if it proves successful the Government might want to try and implement it more broadly. Bringing about cultural change in such a huge and unwieldy organisation would be a big ask, but the efficiency benefits would presumably be huge. And with a mounting budget deficit, that’s the kind of imperative the Treasury can’t afford to ignore.

Interestingly, the report emerged on the same day that the Government announced an additional £10m of funding to encourage employers to take on more apprentices. The state funds, which will be available for big companies and SMEs with established programmes (though apparently not novices, which seems a bit odd), are apparently intended to cover any additional costs involved. The Learning and Skills Council (the architect of the scheme) says this is a great way of training staff and filling skills gaps. True enough – but unfortunately doing the same thing within the NHS might prove rather more tricky...

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