Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 7

"And now, the end is near. And so we face the final curtain."

Never were a truer word spoken, Frank.

I have, over the course of this blog series, summarised elements of my experience. The whole thing took more than a year to come to a resolution and you would have been bored to tears (if you're not already!) with every, small detail.

But I have been honest about my mistakes, though that is not what it has been about. Yes, I told a joke that a senior member of staff shouldn't have told/displayed and I breached a policy I was told to adhere to, though in my defence I didn't actually know I was breaching it at the time but accepted my punishment - it was only right.

I do not wish anyone who has read this to go away thinking I hate or have resentment towards my former colleagues and friends who orchestrated this situation. I will never know why my friend and colleague and second at work decided to destroy my career, though I suspect it was because I called her on her bullying behaviour. I do not, for one second, believe this is what she intended nor had in mind. I don't think anyone could have foreseen what would happen.

I do not know why someone would accuse you of bullying them for ten years, yet have not a single piece of evidence to back it up; not an email, letter, journal or record of times and dates of incidents, records of telephone conversations of any record of having made a complaint, informal or otherwise.

I do not know why my presentation of evidence that said the opposite was ignored.  I illustrated that we spoke frequently via text, were two of a team of people who, at one time, regularly went out together, that she had held my infant son when he was two hours old, who used to take him off me when I visited work and would take off his shoes and socks so she could see and touch his feet, that she volunteered to go on study days with me, that she participated in a university course with me,  that she gave me a Christmas card the day before she accused me of bullying, that she thanked me only four days before on her SDR for all the support I had given her... the list goes on, but it was all ignored.

I do not know why two colleagues who again I was so close to and thought were my friends would go from being on my side to turning against me with nothing to precipitate their decision. Whatever motivated them to do so is known to them and them alone.

I do not know why my manager and her senior would say that I was always a terrible employee and Lead Nurse yet have not a single piece of evidence to support their claims. I can show via emails, texts and calendar appointments that they trusted me, liked me, believed in me and even helped me when I was so very lost. They claim the opposite, yet have nothing to back it up. Yes, they have retrospectively found things that I didn't do well, didn't do right, but only after digging.

Yes, I will have made mistakes in a job I was given zero support in and always told I was doing a good job. If that is what you are always told, why would you ever think otherwise?

All of this leaves you with two simple conclusions, neither of which are palatable.

1) I was a terrible employee and they were terrible managers in that they did absolutely nothing to stop this despotic lead nurse from destroying his team and individuals and, on the contrary, gave him praise and support whilst he did so.

2) They are lying.

It cannot be both and can only be one. There is no third option.

Again, I have only opinions, the decisions I shall leave to you, the readers of this.

I have no idea why they would say colleagues left because of me when I could so easily have those colleagues, many of whom have remained in touch with me the entire time and whom I have been on a night out with, confirm otherwise.

I have no idea why my manager would state that a specific staff member had witnessed my behaviour on a particular day and was shocked, when I have provided emails from the same person on said day and the following one, telling me what a pleasure it was working with me and that she appreciated my kind words about her.

I have no idea why they would accuse me and a colleague of having an affair that could have potentially destroyed my marriage if Kelly wasn't the person she is. My colleague who was also accused knows of these accusations. What she decides to do with them, I am yet to know.

The final part of the story was that I was given a redeployment timetable where they would try and find me a suitable position as a Band 8. I applied for many and was shortlist for none.

I secured one interview and was advised it was a suitability interview. I attended expecting as such but instead faced a full, hour-long interview with a hidden question to answer. Needless to say, I didn't get it (though whether I would have got it had I been more prepared is also unknown!).

Many posts required clinical skills and this is where I was snookered. You see, I had been specialised in a role that I loved and had had requests to expand my learning turned down due to the trust pulling funding for training. I was unable to increase my skills and encouraged to focus on my speciality. That was absolutely fine, as I adored my job, truly loved it with a passion.

However, now I was looking for an alternate position, I had little to no transferrable skills. No ones fault, I know. Just the way it was. But a bummer? Definitely!

Would they offer to train me for said posts? Nope. Senior so-and-so and my manager said that they would not employ me in any similar position in the organisation as the same thing would happen again.

What same thing? I would confront a bully and address her behaviour? Damn right I would.

Eight weeks went by and no post was I suitable for except a Band 5 and I couldn't even secure one of those!

However, the final twist occurred a week before my contract termination date was reached. I was summoned to a meeting with senior so-and-so and a representative from H.R. They felt my skills were too valuable to lose (really? I had already been told in a statement that despite believing everything that had been said about me, that they 'felt my experience made me valuable to the organisation.' You're kidding me, right?

I was offered a Band 5 position with certain caveats (I had previously floated the idea of going back to being a Band 5 out of desperation to maintain my registration), one of which was that I had to drop my claims against the trust.

I said I would discuss it with Kelly and would let them know. I told her that evening what had been offered and she said to me one thing... could I live with it? Could I live with knowing what I knew and just letting it go simply to keep my registration and my career?

Now, just to clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Band 5 staff nurse. I loved, absolutely loved, working on a ward. I would still, when I could help out on wards, even if it was only to answer a buzzer whilst others where busy. I never once thought my banding made me superior to others nor did I think anything was beneath me I was and remained a nurse - only my responsibilities had shifted slightly.

But with this offer, it was a matter of principle. I could happily go back to working on a ward, no issue. Part of me was desperate to go back to the beginning and view it as a fresh start.

But how could I, in good conscience, forget what they had done, not to me, but to the idea of a fair trial and to the idea of justice? How could I, in good conscience, allow them to believe that if they could do this to a senior nurse, a more junior staff nurse would be easy pickings? How could I, in good conscience, allow them to get away with condoning bullying in their organisation by the very fact that they choose to ignore it?

So, the next day, I politely turned down their offer and said I would continue my fight to expose the truth of my case and to never give up revealing the extent and tolerance of bullying in that organisation.

And so, we come full circle, and back to the beginning where I said on 1st April 2018, I was made unemployed.

Even if it takes me the next day, the next week, the next year, the next 500 years, I will not stop until I reveal the truth and expose the culture that now exists in the NHS - one of bullying and harassment.
Not   I said the NHS is an inspired organisation and the noblest occupations. I am proud to have contributed even a tiny part to a patient's well being and recivery, whether directly or by tertiary means.

But there is no argument, supported by the hundreds of articles an documents on the subject, whether by Lord Darzi or Sir Robert Francis or Jeremy Hut or countless others, that a culture of bullying represents a clear and present danger to the mental health and career wellbeing of some nursing staff, current and in the future, across parts of the NHS.

It must be stopped. And if my words can encourage one more nurse to stand up and say "NO", then I have done something to facilitate a change. And that is all it takes, just one person. Because then you get another, and another, and another, and before long you reach a tipping point, where it carries on under its own inertia.

I do not hate my former colleagues. I am just sad and think I always will be.

But I also learnt who out of my colleagues, truly cared for me and would stand by me, throughout everything. I learnt they are the best example of what humanity has to offer and I am forever in their debt. They know who they are. The list is longer than I think the trust would like (some were a little naughty!), but it exists and I am humbled that they cared and believed in me so much that they never faltered in their belief. Thank you to you all.

Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this series of blog pieces - I am truly moved and didn't realise how many friends I really had. Your words have meant so much and shall forever have a place in my heart.

Thank you to my 18-year nursing career. I loved every minute of you. You taught me so much. I made plenty of mistakes, but always tried to own up to them. Most importantly, you gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people - patients and colleagues - who always reminded you that there is so much suffering that can be eased with a smile and so much that can be done when you work together as a team and believe in what it is you do.

Thank you to my two amazing union representatives who always stood by me and did so much more than I could have ever deserved to expect. They are a testament to the health service in regards to the passion they have for supporting anyone in the health profession.

Thank you to one lady in H. R who has shown kindness and professionalism throughout my time liaising with her. She may have believed me, she may not, but I could never tell as her profession attitude never wavered. That is how it should be and she is a shining beacon in a less than honourable department.

And finally, thank you to my beautiful Turtle. Kelly never once left my side and literally kept me alive. I put her through so much, inadvertently, but she never gave up on me. She is my sun, moon and stars and never was there a stronger person.

To paraphrase a great man, I shall never forget this. Not one line. Not one day.

I shall always remember when David McCaffrey, the nurse, was me.


Monday, 16 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 6

This gets a little complicated, so I'll sum up.

I was accused of bullying and harassment and cleared of both accusations without question.

I was partially sanctioned for my joke and sanctioned for speaking to so-and-so's husband i.e. breaching policy.

First written warning for one year. No argument from me. I did tell the joke and spoke to the gentleman.

I was informed I could return to work (not expecting it to be comfortable and fully expecting it to be fraught with emotion), met with a senior member of the hospital who said the same and was then told the day before I return that I am suspended again due to four individuals having said they will leave if I return.

And I'm accused of having an affair with a colleague, even though that had nothing to do with anything.

I'll be honest - I was nearly in tears. I am renowned for having difficulty expressing emotions, both towards others and my own. I don't understand how they are supposed to work. I find them very confusing. But I was more heartbroken than when initially suspended I think. I thought it was done and dusted. Bridges to build, friendships lost, but professionalism remains and most likely, I would move on, but it was done and dusted.

Interlude -

I had been disciplined once before, many years ago. I had confronted a colleague from my place of work about her behaviour towards a senior member of staff and a friend. She had been swearing at her, being disrespectful and made her cry at work.

Everyone I was working with that day saw what was happening, was leaning in to listen to her abusive tirade against my colleague and there's... and did absolutely nothing.

They just sat there, pretending it wasn't occurring.

I couldn't believe that someone they claimed to care so much about and respect so much could be being verbally abused, right in front of them and they did nothing at all.

That was unacceptable to me, so I confronted said abusive colleague and we had an argument in the office. No bad language was used, but voices were raised, I cannot deny.

I was accused of bullying, cleared of the charge but given a final written warning for three years because of behaviour unbecoming a senior nurse.

I defended my colleague against a bullying, abusive individual and got a final written warning after being cleared of the allegation because I had been angry when confronting her.

Appropriate? Not professionally. I was wrong to confront her in the office but knew that she was prone to lying and that if I confronted her in private, I would have no witnesses. As it happens, it was those unreactive witnesses who supported me by saying I hadn't done all the things I was accused of and I was so humbled by their public support for me.

It was moving. Despite my feelings towards their inaction at that moment of abuse, I was simultaneously grateful to have such support for me and what I had done.

The trust said I should have ignored it and reported her to H.R.

Personally, I would do it the same again.

Interlude ends

I find out that my original accuser is one of the four (no surprise there to be honest). It was the other three that completely floored me.

Bearing in mind that two of the three had written statements in February upon my original suspension, praising me and acknowledging they were 100% behind me. They had spoken to others and had them pass on messages of support and that they were thinking about me.

Then in a second statement only a few weeks later, they had utterly changed their thoughts. Despite having had zero contact with me, they had gone from supporting me to saying I was a terrible employee, not very good at my job, haphazard with responsibilities and always made them miserable.

That was upsetting and strange enough, but then, in the June, they said if I returned to my postion they would leave.

Why? They hadn't been involved in anything my original accuser had said whatsoever, yet now where saying they would leave if I returned.

It turns out they had told lies about me when I saw subsequent statements. Not only had both of them commented on this alleged affair I was supposed to have been having, but they had claimed things relating to people leaving because of me that I could 100% refute.

Every single one of those mentioned came forward and said not only was it a lie that they had left because of me, but some of them named the person that caused them to go (guess who it was?) and were lovely about working with me. A few were very angry that their names had been used in vain to support someone else lies.

I was interviewed again (twice) and presented all of this information, in black and white, in the form of letters and e mails via my union representative so I couldn't be accused of coercion.

And do you know what they did to those who lied in a formal investigation?

Nothing.

They are all still there. They even promoted my main accuser to my position while I was suspended and then removed it from her due to complaints about her behaviour.

But the evidence I gave them - it was ignored.

The one who had said the bullying evidence against my accuser would be addressed after my case, never followed up on her promise.

That individual is still there, despite my having demonstrated that four people have left and stated it is because of her.

Sexist? Double standards? I shall let you decide that for yourselves.

On top of that, the senior so-and-so and my manager claimed that I had 'no self awareness at all' and that she was aware of 'previous historic disciplinary issues (notice the plural. What issues? I have already mentioned an issue, but am not aware of issues) My observation was that turnover of staff was higher than I would have expected and that was concerning to me.'

Now, it appears I was getting the blame for staff leaving after all. It is a known fact where I worked that my colleagues went because of a) the new manager who bullied them b) they were given no opportunity for advancement and c) didn't agree with the changing hours.

All have confirmed this were relevant to them, and it is in writing yet the senior so-and-so implied it was because of me.

Hmmm.

Kelly wrote a letter to the senior so-and-so, highlighting her concerns for my mental health, the fact that I had tried to commit suicide because of this whole situation and no one was interested, that she was upset that affair accusations had been levied at me, that evidence had been presented regarding the actual bully and that she had been treated so rudely when enquiring about me all those months ago.

The response was it was 'brought to my attention alongside a number of character references in order to inform a decision as to whether to proceed to a hearing or not. I didn’t feel they changed my decision.'

Character references (more than 12, from all over the hospital, from consultants, current colleagues, former colleagues and respected senior members of the organisation) evidence regarding the actual bully who had forced people to leave and union support and it didn't change the decision.

My manager stated that I was always a nightmare from her first day (remember, she gave me the position. Gave it to me. Without an interview) and that I was never good at my job.

I have asked for evidence to support these allegations and the allegations from the senior so-and-so that I was terrible at my job and they always had complaints about me.

To date, I have received not a single piece of evidence supporting the bullying allegations or that I was terrible or problematic at my job.

They all said they never had any contact with me socially. I provided photos of them sat on my sofa, at home, holding my infant son, texts messages discussing The Walking Dead, text messages asking me to meet them for a coffee and photos from nights out.

But they never had anything to do with me socially.

One of the worst things is that one of the four has been telling other members of staff how terribly the trust have treated me and had subsequently text me to wish me all the best and tell me about their family, yet they are telling the senior so-and-so that if I returned they'd leave.

I have emails from my manager the week before my suspension, telling me what a great job I am doing then goes on record as saying I was always terrible at my job.

There are only two conclusions - I was either that bad, and it was tolerated and I was continually told I was good at my job.

Or she is lying.

That they were all lying.

I shall leave you to decide which you think it most likely.

Tomorrow I shall conclude this whole sad, heartbreaking saga with a final piece.

And then you will be free of me!!!

Well, free of me discussing this. I have plenty of serial killer thrillers yet to write to occupy your time.

And a medical thriller.

And other stuff too!

Friday, 13 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 5

My therapist once told me that my anxieties stemmed from waking up with a full jug. All it took was a small amount to cause its contents to spill over and then my anxieties would manifest themselves.

I have always remembered the analogy. I would wake up with my brain feeling like a lump of clay; hard and fixed, always feeling like I was going to explode. I was still so tired mentally and frustrated continually.

Looking back, a former colleague and friend (who apparently left our place of work because of me. She didn't - I'm not saying this, she told me and put it in a statement, but we'll get to that later) used to say I was a mood hooverer.

It's amusing now, but at the time I was hurt. However, she was bang on the money.

We had a team meeting many, many years before all of this sadness. It had been called to discuss many things about work, but at some point, I can't remember from who, it came up that the reason people in the office sometimes annoyed was that of me.

I was flooored. I didn't recall doing anything specific.

It turns out that if I weren't in a particularly good mood; nothing to do with work, just my general difficulties with the world and people and life and breathing, I would walk in, say my customary hellos and then just sit quietly festering in my dark pit of moodiness.

And apparently, without my saying a word, it would come off me in waves. I was told it was almost a tangible presence all of its own, affecting everyone else like it was in the air.

I told Kelly and said everyone at work is picking on me 😢. Kelly told me they were right!

Her exact words - "I wouldn't chat you up in a nightclub. You know why? You look like to much hard work! Love you though."

Erm, cheers!

She reminded me of a former manager saying that I was lovely to work with, but if I didn't agree with a managerial decision, I would challenge it. I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing, but I can see how it would have been annoying.

Kelly also reminded me that I was challenging and a little bit special!

Cheers, again my beautiful Turtle!

Anyway, I reflected on my newfound status as a mood hooverer and realised that everyone had been right. I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, I was utterly ignorant of the fact that my unspoken, mental struggles were having such a profound effect on others.

I swore to everyone subsequently that, from that day onwards, if there were ever an atmosphere in the office, it would not be caused by me. Oddly, it took years for me to accept all the other things I needed to acknowledge, but that one I sorted ASAP.

There were atmospheres in the office after this and up until my suspension but never caused by anything I said or did.

So, where was I?

Oh, yes. I was strongly persuaded into providing my mental health records, which I did with a little redacting of some personal things. As I had known, there was nothing in them to support the claims that my behaviour had become 'erratic' and that was that after I attended a few customary Occupational Health appointments.

Lovely people, fantastic apartment, but again, no nothing about how to support staff with mental health difficulties.

Anyway, the following week, I am called in again about something else.

I know, what did this guy do?

Well, I had told a joke.

This was the joke.

ICE

BANK

MICE

ELF

Say it fast, and you realise it is a play on words.

I had written it on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall, the idea being people would walk past, see it, read and laugh.

My manager told me if I had to leave it up then at least make it look Christmassy, so I drew a tree with baubles on it.

This was maybe the first week in December, so two weeks before I was suspended.

This subsequent meeting was to discuss this and a presentation, that I shall get to in a minute.

I was told that the joke had been 'found'.

It wasn't hidden remember. It was stuck on the wall. I was curious why it had been 'found' three months later, but I had my suspicions why.

I was asked did I do it.

I said I did.

I was asked if I thought it was acceptable?

I said no, I realised it wasn't. I had done it as a joke to bring some levity into a workplace that was rapidly becoming un-fun and stagnant. Work in the NHS has lives attached to it and requires a degree of respect and reverence, but that doesn't mean that in downtime, you can't have a little fun and a laugh.

I was told that had I considered that someone may not have found it funny and thought I found them prudish for not laughing.

I explained I hadn't considered it that deeply, but as a Lead Nurse, it was unprofessional and I should't have done it.

I always found it difficult to separate being friendly with my colleagues whom I had known for nearly a decade and the managerial side of things. To me, it was a little blurred, but that was my failing as a manager, and I accepted that and still do.

The thing was (and this isn't removing myself my the blame, it is mine; I wish to give a little context) I had zero support outside of my immediate colleagues in the role and will openly admit I often was struggling. We had been without a manager for many months after she was unceremoniously removed to hang the blame for target failure on someone.

With her gone, there was just us, and as much as we supported each other and had some fantastic support from a senior colleague, it was difficutl for all. We weren't particularly popular with the then Director of Nursing, so had little help there and relied just on ourselves.

And we got the job done. Targets, though challenging, did not plummet, patients were reviewed, and advice was provided to any and all who asked and required it. We maintained a sense of fun and a truely supportive atmosphere. Though it was so hard for us all, it was perhaps the best time at work.

But I had no one to advise me on the now two jobs I was doing - my Lead Nurse role and now a managerial one, and I struggled. However, everyone was always supportive of me and kept me going.

We were all great together.

So yes, my failing as a leader was that I didn't distinguish enough between my responsibilities and that is on me, 100%.

I often vocally stated I didn't think I was the best person for the job, but at the time, no one else wanted it, and I had just been given it.

Now that there is a significant factor I believe in what followed.

I never gave it any thought and turned down the role three times when asked.

I was begged on the fourth request and said I would be happy to do it for six months until they found someone better.

Of course, our manager was removed, and no one was in charge, so I was kinda stuck.

Now, don't get me wrong (song time!), though I initially was reluctant, by default I learnt so very much from being in that position that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to do. But it had been given to me and, in hindsight,m that must have pissed other colleagues off who had been there longer than me and were more experienced. I never thought about it in those terms and had no ego to bruise. But thinking about it afterwards and with what happened, I realised it would have, understandably, been a blow to colleagues who were as much, if not more so, qualified for the post.

But it wasn't my decision. I was asked for a favour, and because I would go to Hell for my manager at the time if she asked, I accepted.

When we eventually gained a new manager (who ended up being the person everyone told me they were, but that I had refused to believe it. I didn't actually realise how disliked this individual was until afterwards when people told me), the position I was still acting up in as Lead Nurse was put out for interview.

I and a colleague went for it. I had decided not to, but many other colleagues told me I should do, given my experience. I didn;t necessarily agree, but thought I had nothing to lose.

After a very strange presentation given in front of staff members who could drop in to hear it and a three-panel interview, neither myself nor my colleague was successful. I am uncertain as to why my significant other didn't get offered the post, but I was informed that I didn't have enough experience in the role.

After nearly two years.

But I was then asked by a senior member of staff (remember the A.N Other who suspended me?) if I would be willing to remain in the post until they found someone more suitable.

I kid you not. Those were the exact words.

I very politely said... no thank you and that was it.

I was relieved. I hadn't upset anyone in the acting up post, so going back to my Band 7 wouldn't be awkward and actually, I was instead looking forward to it. No more stress and extra responsibility. I could see patients again, conduct audits and visit the wards more than I had been able to.

That was pretty great. And my uniform still fit, so good times.

I turned up for work on Monday, in my old white tunic (which was excellent) and was called to a meeting where I was asked again by the then DoN if I would reconsider my thoughts on taking the role until someone else was found.

I politely advised that it had been humiliating to be asked to do that and that I would kindly decline their generous offer.

We then, as mentioned, had our new manager and things were looking up. After being just us nurses for so long, everyone was a little wary, but the manager soon inspired us and we saw it was an inspired choice. Not everyone agreed and we lost an amazing nurse because of the manager's behaviour, but that will come up later as it is relevant to my suspension.

Of course, I kept getting asked to go to meetings and carry out tasks that were Lead Nurse tasks. Now I'll be honest; this frustrated me a little. I had been told I hadn't enough experience for the role and they were looking for someone more suitable, but without a Lead Nurse, as the closest thing to it, I was expected to do these tasks.

Anyway, a few weeks later I was asked again because, and I quote, "I have observed the others and you are easily the best person for the job. You know it inside out and have the experience."

This is the experience I didn't have a few months ago.

I said I would do it on one condition - that we were left until last in the restructuring taking place.

It was agreed that that was a reasonable request and I had boomeranged back into the post... again.

Again, and I didn't think this at the time in my naivety, but this must have again really upset some of the others. And I understand it now. But at the time, I just wanted to team to be able to move forward and have a fresh start.

I knew not everyone agreed with me in the role - some didn't like my relaxed approach to things and how I put the well being of the team first and foremost. Maybe they were right. Perhaps I did mollycoddle them too much.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Anyway, back to the suspension meeting.

So, I had told the joke and accepted it was wrong.

I was then asked if I had delivered a particular presentation on a past away day.

I was shown it and said I had.

The slides had consisted of the formal, away day stuff - figures, targets, where were we, where are we going etc. and a more fun opening with, what I thought were funny slides.

I accept I dropped the ball on this one.

For example, I had put up a photo of a drunk woman and said it was so-and-so at the end of the week.

I know, I know.

Or there was a photo of a cartoon character as I had a nickname for one of my colleagues. Not an offensive nickname, just a nickname.

Or there was a photo of a bodybuilder as one of my colleagues enjoyed exercise.

I know, not good at all.

I thought, and this is my familiarity thing again, that as we had known each other for so long (and I took the mick out of myself too with a picture of House as I was always being told I said the wrong thing in social circumstances) it would be a bit of fun before the serious stuff.

Now, in my defence, not a soul complained at the time. It was more than two years later then this presentation was raised as part of my suspension.

Again, I was told it had been 'found'.

Two years later and three months into my suspension. Not raised at the time or since not amongst the initial allegations. But 'found'.

Once again I had messed up, big time. I didn't get the whole managerial thing, and I wasn't good at it, but I was offered no support whatsoever. No complaints either I might add, but no help.

So, at the time, I thought I was doing okay.

I accept my wrongdoings for the joke and the presentation, and I am finally given a panel date for my disciplinary.

Up until this time, I had consistently mentioned that there was a nurse, the individual who had raised these alligations and whom I had raised concerns about to my manager the day before my suspension, who had subsequently;y been identified by another colleague as a bully. Someone else came forward a gave a verbal and written statement to this effect and you had two statements reporting the behaviour of this team member.

I was told the evidence had been presented to someone high up and they had said it would be investigated after my disciplinary was concluded.

Okay, not great, but at least they are taking it seriously.

Long story short - nine hours in total for the panel and I am cleared of all charges (that is bullying and favouritism) unanimously and completely, with the joke sanction partially upheld and breeching of policy completely upheld.

Fair enough.

I was told I could return to work and arrangements would be made.

I think, aside form my marriage, children being born and meeting George Lucas, it was the happiest moment of my life!

Would it be easy returning to somewhere where you knew people had accused you of something you didn't do and had consistently stated was the case?

No. I was under no illusions.

But I so desperately wanted to be back at work, doing what I loved. I wasn't angry with my accusers, I was profoundly sad.

But everything passes and I would move on eventually, as it rightly couldn't go back to how it was, and it would be over and done with.

No recriminations, all forgotten.

I have a meeting about my return to work the following week. I am terrified, scared and anxious beyond belief. I am asked what support I feel I need; I say that I appreciate that my colleagues may need it more, but that I am thankful it is all over and just want to be back at work.

I can come back the following week, the staff will be told, and we say our goodbyes.

All that week, I am so scared. I haven't spoken to anyone for six months. It will be awkward, strange, terrifying, humbling and so much more.

I'm so glad it's over, and my name is cleared. I knew I wasn't a bully, but it means so much when a panel of your peers agree and support all the evidence you presented to prove otherwise.

The day before my big return arrives and I haven't heard anything, which I think is a little odd.

I call up and leave a message which I am told will be returned.

I am called back by a senior member of management and when I ask is everything okay for my return, I'm told no.

I'm confused and ask what has happened.

Though this wasn't said at the time (I was re-suspended pending an investigation), it turns out that when my return had been announced, everyone had been pleased and was looking forward to it.

Except for my accuser and my manager.

And two other colleagues (call them b and c) who, until recently, had been supportive of me.

What follows are actual quotes -

C said to someone only a few months before 'she is distraught about the whole thing. She feels terrible not being able to speak to you. She's been enquiring if this is legal. She cares so much about you.'

D said to someone 'she is thinking of you, she just can't contact you. Got upset when I saw her.'

But now, bearing in mind no one has spoken to me from work nor have I spoke to anyone aside from my desperate message at Christmas. Two colleagues, out of nowhere who had no issues at all, no accusations, no problems and in their first statements were 100% supportive of me (you only get to see everyone's comments when you go to a panel. Prior to that, I literally knew nothing) have joined my manager and my accuser and said if I am allowed to return to work, they will leave.

Exactly, that. If I am allowed to return to work, they will leave.

They blackmailed a senior manager into threatening that if I go back, they will go elsewhere.

And the senior manager said "Okay, then."

So, I have been cleared of the allegations, accepted my telling off for the joke and policy breech, and am suspended again for 'non-disciplinary reasons.'

What has caused two colleagues, friends (these are the people who held my infant son, sat on my sofa, asked us to their house at Christmas every year), with no contact with me whatsoever, to suddenly say if I go back, they will leave.

Oh, and two of them have decided to state in the same moment that I was having an affair with a colleague.

Well, that all went south quickly!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 4

One day in February, after my first meeting but before the second, I had just dropped Jakey off at school and popped to the drive-through Subway to get a coffee for me and a cookie for the Gruff.

Driving home, I had to pass a colleague's road end. I chatted with Gruffy about popping to see her husband; I didn't know him that well, as in we weren't close friends, but I had always had a ridiculous amount of respect for him and we had always gotten on well.

Gruff agreed (in the only way a two-year-old can) that we should pop round to see him, as I was desperate to see/speak/hear a friendly voice and face.

I didn't realise what a HUGE mistake I was making!

I had taken an educated guess that his wife, my colleague, wasn't home, given the day of the week and, spying no car in the driveway that I recognised, felt fairly confident I was okay.

Remember, I wasn't allowed to have contact with anyone who I worked with.

I gathered anyone else would be fine, especially if they don't work at the hospital.

Knock on the door, it's answered with a friendly smile and my suspicions that my colleague isn't in are confirmed.

A quick chat about how we are both doing, I share perhaps a little too much about myself in an emotional barf and say that it's really hard having heard that your colleagues perhaps think you are sexist.

I'm asked in for a coffee, I politely turn it down, am given his phone number if I ever wish to chat and I am on my way, Gruff in tow.

I get a message from his wife (my colleague) saying how sad she is that she missed me and a message that weekend from the husband asking if Kelly and I wish to go for tea for following weekend. I decline, because a) I'm not allowed to speak to work colleagues and b) Kelly and I are away at an event.

But the fact I have even been asked... priceless and for the first time since my suspension, made me feel that someone actually cared.

Did I mention I had made a HUGE error?

The weekend passes, sleepless, nightmare-filled nights continue...

INTERLUDE - I have always had nightmares since I was a child. My therapist when I was younger told me they were brought on by classic 'Daddy' issues. Night terrors, climbing out of my bedroom windows (they had to be nailed shut!), the whole nine yards.

My first vivid memory of my father was my holding my Mum's hand whilst she held my baby brother and him throwing a telephone at her, breaking her jaw and severely injuring her face.

My father... what a guy!

Anyway, sleepless nights, blah, blah, blah and it is Monday. I am on my way back from Newcastle with Kelly after meeting a friend to discuss a book idea for the two of us to work on.

Mobile rings. I answer (hands-free, of course) and it is an obsequious gentleman from H.R. If fact, it's Mister 'I'm just calling to tell you I can't tell you anything'.

"You were told you couldn't speak to anyone from work!"

ME "I haven't."

"You spoke to so-and-so on so-and-so."

ME "I did, but they don't work for the hospital."

"They do."

ME "They don't."

"They do."

You get the jist...

"YOU WERE EXPLICITLY TOLD THAT YOU COULDN'T SPEAK TO ANYONE." (He's shouting now)

He puts the phone down.

I absolutely cannot stand it when someone hangs up on me. And this is a professional, H.R representative from work and he just put down the phone.

Granted, I should have remained calm. There was no shouting, but it was emotional then, only two months afterwards and still not knowing anything and it's still emotional now. My passion, my life, my career, all hanging there, in the palm of a few individuals hands and the one person supposed to help me, hung up.

However, bear in mind this gentleman called Kelly and threatened her on the 19th December 2016 that if she tried to contact the office where I worked again to ask what was going on, she would be open to disciplinary action. This stemmed from, on the day I was suspended, I had come home, kissed her and walked back out without really saying a word. She had panicked and called my place of work to ask what was going on.

It turned out my manager had told H.R she had called, rang her back and said she couldn't tell her anything (not before saying "He doesn't know what he's like... what am I like, boss? Because the last you told me in my SDR only two months prior was that I was hardworking, motivated and was doing a really good job. So, please, tell me, what was I like, 'cause you only ever told me I was doing a good job). That Monday, H.R man called her and threatened her with the above.

I felt all warm and fuzzy when I found out how concerned and supportive they were being.

Anyway, Kelly tells me she thought he was a tad rude whilst we were in the car and he hung up, but also asked what have I done? Who did I speak to?

I tell her again it was so-and-so, but he doesn't work for the hospital, so I'm a little confused to be honest.

Kelly tells me that she knows I'm a little dim and that it takes a village to raise a David and am I certain I haven't done anything?

I tell her I am absolutely, positively certain that I don't think I might have not done something.

A letter comes in the post the next day, advising me I have to attend a disciplinary meeting. This isn't my second, formal disciplinary meeting, this is an added extra.

I turn up with my amazing Union rep (who is and has been a Godsend along with his colleague and regional manager) and am told that I spoke to so-and-so on so-and-so and he is married to so-and-so and did I know this?

I confirmed all the so-and-so's.

I was then told I was explicitly told not to speak to anyone from the trust.

I said I thought it was work.

No, it was the trust and he works for it.

No, he doesn't.

Yes, he does.

You get the jist...

I explain I didn't know he worked for the trust (I honestly, didn't, which was confirmed by the man himself when they called him in for an interview about my behaviour. Yes, an interview!)

I was also asked about having contacted someone from my place of work. This I had done because said colleague was a character in my book and I had never received permission for her use. I didn't fancy altering all the book where her character was, so I sent a message.

I was able to prove all of this as the book was available for pre-order on Amazon with her details, but I still got into trouble for it. Fair play. I had contacted her in a moment of weakness, so I held my hands up.

But then I was told why I had said to so-and-so on so-and-so that work had said I was a sex pest.

Excuse me?

I told so-and-so and so-and-so had said I was a sex pest and had discussed the case.

I said that I didn't know anything to tell anyone, but that I certainly had;t said I was accused of being a sex pest. I had said I had been accused of being sexist.

"That's not what you said. You went with the intention to speak to so-and-so and this was confirmed."

"How do you know what my intentions where?"

"We'll ask the questions, David. And we were told that was your intention."

"By who?"

"So-and-so's husband."

"But how would he know what my intentions where? It was a spur of the moment thing in a moment of weakness and desperation to speak to someone and see a friendly face."

"You went to their town deliberately."

"Of course I didn't. I was dropping my son off at school and have to drive past the end of their road to leave the town. It was just something that popped into my head as I was having a conversation with my two-year-old."

Cue funny looks.

"Your son goes to the school in this town?"

"Yes."

"So, you were already there and didn't go intentionally?"

"Er, no. I go there twice a week to drop him off and pick him up."

"We were under the impression you went there on purpose."

Did I mess up calling in? Absolutely. Huge, massive DOH! As I said, weakness.

Was I asked why I was there?

Nope, it was just assumed why I was there explicitly to cause trouble.

Fair and unbiased H.R at work.

But then, it became profoundly sad. As if it was even possible to become worse.

I received a few text messages from people at work who had bumped into members of my workplace and had been asked to pass o their love and that they were thinking of me.

It was truly lovely, even though they weren't speaking to me because they had been told they weren't allowed, that they had gone to the effort to have messages passed on.Two people whom I loved and respected at work, who kept me right, who taught me so much and who made being at work enjoyable. They had held my baby son on our sofa, held my baby son in a coffee shop, had myself and my children to their house every Christmas so the boys could see the Christmas lights they had (which were awesome by the way!).

I couldn't speak to them to say thank you, but I hoped they knew how much it meant. It told me everything would be okay. Maybe I wasn't universally hated and reviled (Not that that had been said but I'm a self-conscious, paranoid, anxiety-ridden individual. I automatically go to everyone hates me, nobody loves me, I think I should go and eat worms).

I'm called in for my second meeting that constitutes part of my disciplinary investigation and am asked some more questions. the whole thing maybe takes an hour and a half. Towards the end, I am asked if I have had contact with any other so-and-so.

I say I have, but how do they know?

I am asked if I mentioned that I would keep them posted on what was happening with my suspension?

I ask how they know that and am told that said individual mentioned something in passing to someone and that someone told H.R.

I completely understand why certain rules are put in place. As difficult as it can be, an investigation, any investigation, has to be as impartial as possible. Difficult to ensure 10%, but best efforts can be made.

On this end, when you know so little, the urge to find out anything is almost overwhelming. To stop myself getting into trouble, I had already deleted everyone from Facebook so I didn't accidentally get caught up in a conversation and had blocked everyone on Whatsapp for the same reason.

Horrible to do, but I felt it was important.

INTERLUDE - I was sent home from work in the September by my manager and her manager due to concerns over my mental health. Some scarring had been seen on my arm and in a lovely showing of concern and affection, with tears in their eyes and mine, I was told to go and get the help I needed to be well. My job would be waiting for me and that my boss just wanted me to be safe and helped. 

She called Kelly to tell her what had happened and what she had felt she had to do. Kelly was moved by how upset she was about it all and was so grateful to her for having done what she had.

You have to bear in mind, my manager had managed to do what my wife and countless others had failed to do and that was to get me to confront the fact I needed help. Kelly had so much respect and admiration for her and was so pleased that I respected her so much that I had listened (I don't think I had a choice, to be honest, but it was still a very powerful and emotional moment). 

I was a little hurt at first, thinking I had been betrayed, but after I was home, I accepted that it had needed to be done, not only for me but for work as well. And it was the final push I needed to get the help I should have sort a long time ago.

I respected her before, but now, knowing my manager had done that for me, I was so appreciative and humbled that she had cared enough. Maybe it was something every boss would do and I was making too much of it. But to me, that is how it felt. My boss had made me see what my beautiful Kelly hadn't been able to.

And that deserved respect. I truly thought she was awesome!

The next time I was called into work, I was asked for permission to view my mental health records because they had been told of my experience and concerns had been raised about my 'behaviour'.

Upset, because how could they know that? She wouldn't have told them, surely? It wouldn't have been used against me, surely?

I said that I would rather not and that it was wasn't relevant. More than that, my records of appointments and discussions had with my therapist were full of personal, very emotional issues and I didn't really wish to share them. 

I was told, in more or less these exact words, that if I didn't or refused to share them with the trust "it would reflect badly on me."

 Rock. Hard Place. Me.

I knew I should have asked for a long sleeved tunic!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 3


Okay, so before anyone gets there first, I need to say that the NHS is a fantastic organisation. 
Aneurin Bevan spearheaded not only one of the greatest establishments the U.K has ever seen, but a system of free healthcare for all that remains unequalled in the world.
I have seen inspired surgery carried out, met and cared for hundreds of patients while working on a ward, had hundreds of amazing nurses become part of the periphery of my life and be part of something truely unique.
There is no vocation like it, anywhere in my humble opinion. 
But which ever way you choose to cut it, it didn't use to be like this. I don't mean the circumstances I'm sharing, I mean the lack of humility, responsibility for staff, the caring and protective nature that used to be an everyday part of your working day. 
This is present amongst friends and colleagues of course, not all, but many; from higher up in the echelons of the organisation, where decisions are made without any consideration of the repercussions or consequences, there is a distinct lack of understanding or what constitutes a pleasant working environment. Not a calm one - that doesn't exist in nursing. But the most horrendous, stressful, traumatic day can be tempered knowing that when you return the next day or perhaps the following, you will feel appreciated, love, protected for the care you provided and most importantly, supported. 
And what the NHS and particularly, the unnamed establishment I am referring to, do not understand at all, is mental health. Not amongst, patients, though that could be better outside of the actual mental health hospitals, but amongst staff.
According to the Department of Health, in 2014 1,497 nurses at 31 trusts took time off related to stress in the workplace, more than 27% in 2012.
This is multi-factorial and not explicitly related to the bullying culture I am referring to. Increasing pressures, acuity of patients, the life expectancy of patients, reduced funding and provisions, all play a part. As a nurse, the one thing you wish to do is care for others; that is why you choose to do it. When you are unable to do that because of bureaucracy, it becomes a spiral of frustrations, irritations and potential problems in an organisation that relies on its workforce; it's very colleagues, to maintain a coherent and functional service.
But it cannot be denied that bullying plays enough if its part.
It is a silent epidemic that no one wants to talk about or admit, but everyone knows exists in one form or another. It isn't, of course, necessary physical (though that sadly does occur in some circumstances). No, it is far more insidious and capricious nowadays. Indeed where I was, I realised that they had governed and nurtured a culture of fear and compliance rather than learning and enthusiastic participation in improvement. But you don't have to take my word for it.
Robert Francis QC repeatedly referred to bullying as a key driver of the toxic culture at Mid Staffordshire hospital -- yet made not a single recommendation about stopping it. Bullying was not mentioned in the Government’s response to the Francis Report.
In 2009, Sir Ian Kennedy, then departing chair of the Healthcare Commission (now CQC), warned about the “corrosive” impact of bullying among NHS staff. He said bullying worried him “more than anything else” in the NHS and was “permeating the delivery of care with a culture that was now one of the biggest untalked about problems in the delivery of good care to patients.”
Of course, the flip side is that there is a risk bullying will be reported that doesn't constitute bullying and because that word has been used (as discussed in Part 1), immediately there is a knee-jerk reaction instead of a considered and unbiased process.
When I was 14, I had no real friends. Remember, spotty, geeky child (I used to wear my Batman t-shirts beneath my school shirt, as though having them on and keeping them close would imbue me with some courage or strength. It did neither, but no harm, no foul!). A few children used to speak to me and invite me to chat and meet up with them, but I realised later in life that they were never really invested in me as a person and a friend (which is, of course, fine. That is an individual's prerogative... "No, you MUST be friends with me, 'cause my Mum said!!").
But this one day, I was asked if I wanted to meet a load of them before they went to the youth club. Oh, wow, was I excited! I couldn't believe it. Me, they asked me, to go with them? Fantastic!"
I was told what to wear, specifically, to fit in and raced home after school to tell Mum and to say we had to go to the shops to get these items of clothing. 
You can see where this is going, can't you?
So, I turn up at the designated meeting point, beneath the Regent Cinema, in my purple stretchy tracksuit bottoms and my purple hooded top, nice white trainers and thinking I looked excellent... I was the coolest. How great they asked me to join them. I was so chuffed. I finally didn't have to be lonely at school.
I think they maybe stopped laughing at me after about ten minutes. Any sensible child/teenager would have seen what was going to happen. But not David the Stupid, no way. 
Doh! Bollocks. Crap. For crying out loud. Bugger and so on and so forth.
Anyway, back to my attempted suicide.
Now, I won't bore you with details of my pathetic, selfish attempt to take my life. That is all in a previous blog post. Needless to say that I came in at about 0400, drunk and made my way to the kitchen where I removed a knife, sat on the floor and without pretty much any thought at all, started bringing it viciously across my right wrist.
What happened?
Nothing. You know why?
Kelly had removed all of the sharp knives in her prescient moment earlier that day.
What did I have to say about it, at that very moment?
"Did you get these in Ikea, 'cause they don't cut shit."
Much crying, cuddles, kind, soft words that everything will be okay and that was pretty much it (I'm shortening it for brevity and keeping you awake!).
Scars on my arms and body - 1
Scars on my wrist - 0
Nil pwa.
So, a few letters are sent my way, bearing in mind I still know absolutely nothing apart from my weekly phone call I receive where my lovely, not at all patronising H.R rep tells me he can't tell me anything and will speak to me next week.
Your mind races in such circumstances. I had pretty much worked out who it could have been you had accused me of bullying, but then you second guess everything you ever said and did. 
Was I a bully?
I'd had a few words with her about her behaviour and attitude towards junior colleagues. It wasn't heated, but it was emotionally charged.
But bullying? It couldn't be, could it?
Though no one is supposed to contact me, two people go out of their way top just check I am okay - one via a friend and one directly. Two lovely individuals who I got on so well with, but didn't think I mattered to that much, have broken policy to just ask how I am. One even said they had been told they weren't allowed to contact me, but said that was ridiculous and contacted me anyway just to ask about me; not work, not the situation, just me.
I shall never forget it.
February is when I am first given any indication of what is going on. Not whom and what was said, but from the questions, I am asked I can kinda work it out.
"Can you please give a background of working with the Trust and current team?"
"A meeting was held in the Boardroom (15th December am) with so-and-so and so-and-so. Can you talk me through what happened that morning from when you came into work?"
Bearing in mind, this was more than two months later. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast!
"Did you discuss so-and-so with thingamabob?"
"Did you say this?"
"Did you say that?
"Why did so-and-so draft a statement and give it to you?"
"It's a serious allegation to have made that so-and-so was bullying."
Really? But not the same kind of serious that was levied at me because here I am and they are still at work? Explain that to me? Is my allegation of bullying not as valid as her allegations of bullying? Is it because mine affects junior staff, it isn't as important, but as this is a senior staff issue, it automatically because important?
"Did you actually raise these concerns with so-and-so?"
Absolutely!
"Okay, moving on, have you ever commented on timekeeping?"
What, that's it for the bullying issue? That is all the credence you are paying for what I just told you?
"I understand so-and-so request for annual leave was declined?"
Seriously? That is what we are talking about here? I was told at the time of my suspension serious bullying allegations had been made. You are asking me about annual leave requests!
"It has been suggested you refer to the team as 'my girls'. Would you not agree this is sexist?"
Well, I guess, now it is said that way. They would send me photos with the captions 'your girls' from nights out, so I only thought of it as banter and familiarity. Now you say it, I never thought I was being sexist, but I can see now how it could have been seen that way.
"You reported that it dawned on you so-and-so might be bullying other Band 6's - were you told this or was this your perception?"
No, I saw it, heard it and was given statements - verbally and written - that this was the case.
"Do you recall a conversation on 5th December 2016?"
You have got to be kidding me? That was more than three months ago. What conversation? What time of the day?
"What do you consider disloyal?"
And on and on it went, for nearly three hours. 
And that was just day one!
I reflected when I returned home that day. I did use to refer to the team as 'my girls' and, in hindsight, it was inappropriate. Not meant in a harmful way, but I could see, now my political and social ignorance were being addressed, it was not right.
Of course, I didn't mean it in a proprietary way. I meant it in an affectionate one. But it wasn't proper. It wasn't all the time, of course, but even once, it wasn't how a lead nurse should title his colleagues. 
I was sad, so sad and heartbroken and being called a bully and still not knowing what I had done. 
But things got worse upon my next meeting.  

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - bullying and the NHS Part 2

When I was in secondary school, I used to be made to eat cigarette butts at the back of the bus.

I say made, really I mean to say I was too frightened to say anything other than, "Okay."

The game was you passed around a cigarette and had to maintain the ash on the end. Whoever it fell off on, had to eat it. Oddly, it always fell off on my turn (taking into account we shouldn't have had cigarettes, but that's a different conversation!).

Doesn't half make you feel sick. And to top it off, they never gave me decent cigarettes; always Regal. Could have at least made me eat Benson and Hedges.

Anyway, 16th December 2016. Me and my Christmas t-shirt, follow my manager into an office occupied by a HR representative and A.N Other.

At that moment, I immediately thought, 'Shit! It isn't going to be the Christmas surprise I was thinking...'

I was sat down, Christmas Star Wars t-shirt and all, and informed that serious allegations of bullying had been made against me by members of the team I worked in.

Upon hearing this, my response was similar to The Doctor's at 1:05





I must have said excuse me and what dozens of times!

They wouldn't, of course, tell me who said individuals were, but in the back of my mind, I had a good idea...

BACK TO WEDNESDAY 14th DECEMBER 2016

I was having a conversation with a colleague about dogs sleeping on your bed (don't ask me why!) and the content inexplicably veered towards a discussion about suitable candidates for an upcoming position. 

A few expletives were projected by my colleague; deputy at work for two years and friend for 10, regarding my suggestions of fellow colleagues who had expressed interest. 

I was then advised that one of the team had been upset by two other team members. I said I wasn't aware of it, but figured I could chat with her about that tomorrow as she wasn't available at the time.

No crossed words, though it had made me sad that we had had a disagreement, I called her late that night to say I didn't want us to follow out over a difference of opinion and to ring me back if the opportunity arose. I missed her return call, she missed mine...

No worries. We can chat tomorrow and all will be well. Who hasn't worked with the same colleagues for more than 10 years and not had a disagreement? All will be well. No problem.

THURSDAY 15th DECEMBER 2016 

My joke about my calls not being returned is met with silence (I should have kept silent, but I can't help but be quippy. I know it is irritating!). 

I and my two colleagues make our way to a room where, for five or so minutes, we chat about who caused whom to be upset, what caused it, what can be done and basic supportive conversational progression. 

We are told to leave the room as it is needed; conversation ended, we'll chat later and the remainder of the morning goes on fine (as far as I know). Conversations and teaching sessions are held, banter exchanged, all is well (as far as I can tell!).

But I am perturbed. I cannot shake the feeling that, what I heard yesterday about colleagues and what I had previously witnessed and been made aware of, was wrong. What really concerned me was what had been said to me about other nurses. I had addressed an issue once before and that nurse had left because of how she was treated by another member of the team.

Horribly inexperienced as I was at the time to deal with it, I had done my best. I should have done more, but that hindsight thing is an awesome quality to have. Always telling you what you should have done after the fact. 

The colleague who I discovered had accused me was my friend. Had held my youngest son when he was hours old whilst my wife was being stitched up in the delivery room. We had gone on away days together, done courses together, regularly texted each other, had nights out as a team and were organising a Christmas night out for all. We were arranging a double date with her husband and her, my wife and a former colleague, whom we were both friends with. Things were good and I thought the world of her. 

But I couldn't shake what I had been told, so I asked my manager for council on it and advised that I believed, after much soul-searching, my friend may be the problem with the upset in the team and that I had concerns regarding her behaviour towards junior members of staff. 

I was told she and another team member had been to speak to her about me.

Okayyyy... what about?

"I can't tell you."

Okayyyy... when?

"This morning?"

Okayyyy... 

I expressed frustration at being confused about how lovely everything had been all morning and not even being aware there were any issues with myself (stupid David!!). I make a comment about working with 'bloody women' and how I miss working with blokes who just march up to you and threaten to knock you out if they are annoyed with you. 

I'm such an idiot I don't even realise that what I have just said is sexist (it never crossed my mind, but that is what was thrown at me. I cannot deny; I said it and it was bang out of order. I have no excuse, so to women everywhere, I apologise unreservedly).

I return to my desk, write a sad email to my manager, stating how awful it was having to speak to her about my concerns and about hearing friends were upset with me, say bye to everyone in the office (my subsequent accusers return a hearty goodbye in return) and go home (I was only in a half day; I didn't just walk out of work!!!).

I return to my family, go to sleep with no concerns, completely ignorant and stupid about what is about to happen.

BACK TO 16th DECEMBER 2016

After the top page preamble, I'm escorted off the premises after being told I'm suspended and ring Kelly to tell her. 

She asks why?

I say I have no idea really and tell her what I know.

I ask someone via text message if they can collect Jakey's Christmas letter from Father Christmas, but receive no reply (they had already been told they cannot speak to me, but I don't know this at the time and just think I am being ignored). 

No one speaks to me for over four months from work; HR representatives do. Friends and colleagues, not a word. You see, they have been threatened (I found out later) that they cannot speak to me under any circumstances or they will be disciplined. 

This is right before Christmas. I beg one of my friends to speak to me, not about work, just anything; television, Christmas programmes, her children... anything, just to hear a friendly voice, even if it is via text.

Nothing.

Except a phone call from HR telling me that I have breached the terms of my suspension and am in trouble for texting a friend. I say I wasn't asking about work; on the contrary, I just wanted to speak about anything else. Doesn't matter - I have broken the rules and am simply given the Crisis Helpline number with advice that if I need to chat with someone, call them.

I just desperately wanted to know that someone, anyone, cared. I wasn't a bully. I knew I wasn't.

I wasn't, was I?

When I had been a child living in Billingham, I was beaten up virtually every day at St Joseph's Primary School. Well, nearly every day.

I hated school. I cried upon having to go. An older boy (who ended up playing for Leeds United) used to chase me around the field and clobber me when he caught me... which he always did because I was teenie-tiny back then. Severley underweight and goofy, with a bowl haircut (thanks, Mum) and NHS glasses (thanks, Mum).

Have you seen NHS glasses now? They're great!

My father was a horrible man; misogynistic wife beater, drunk and psychological abuser of one of his children (he ignored my little brother). He collected me once, from the bus stop when I was in secondary school. I had severe acne from being about 12 to 30 and looked horrendous. My name wasn't David at school; it was Pizza Face. I forgot I was called David until I was in my twenties and someone reminded me!

My Mum was the only person in the world who never looked at me as though I was a monster; I only ever saw love in her eyes.

My Dad watched me get off the bus and said, "I'm not walking home with a son who looks like that," and left me, whilst the bus full of children laughed. I only saw him occasionally when he wasn't drunk and that was all he had to say to me.

And that was one of the nicer things he did!

Anyway, had I upset someone at work, my friend, so much that she had reported me for being a bully? I didn't know of course, as you aren't allowed to be told anything.

I'd been assigned a liaison from H.R who would tell me on a regular basis, "I'm just ringing to tell you that I can't tell you anything. Speak to you next week."

Not a peep from a soul and it is now Christmas, where I know only that I have been accused of bullying... after reporting bullying.

Was it a coincidence, or was I just making connections where there were none?

Had I done something and not realised, being a bit dim?

But I was determined not to spoil Christmas for my family, so brave face on and we had a lovely Eve and Day. Special, truly. So much love, it was almost tangible.

Boxing Day came and Kelly was supportive of my going out with my friend to relax and try and take my mind off things.

She knew something. I don't know how, but she did.

She had helped me through my recent, reluctant diagnoses of depression and anxiety and was so wonderful about it all. Guiding me and educating me.

But she somehow knew that when I came in that evening, drunk and melancholic, that I would do it.

She had known I would try and kill myself.
  

Monday, 9 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned

On the 1st April 2018, my contract with the NHS was terminated and I was made redundant. I was unable to return to my original position of Lead Nurse and, with no suitable posts found, I was terminated (sounds very Arnie, doesn't it?).

There is a cosmic irony somewhere, I imagine, in regards to the date, but April Fools Day was the day when 18 years of my life and a career I had worked so hard for and felt so passionately about, came to an end.

And it was all because of bullying.

I have worked since I was old enough to have a paper round and have never been out of work. But I sit here, writing this, worrying about how I am going to support my family, pay my mortgage, what the future holds because a few individuals decided to conspire against me.

What for, I hear you ask?

Because I drew attention to bullying.

There's that irony again.

I could have been asked to be moved, asked to relinquish my position, told I wasn't good enough at it; all would have hurt, but not like this. But instead, a more insidious, complicated, destructive route was taken.

I shall never claim to be perfect. Have I made mistakes? Oof, I have made some doozies. Have I made mistakes at work? Yup. Have I ever been irritated, annoyed, frustrated at work? I have.

But to have your career end in such an ignominious way is akin to having part of your self forcibly removed. I can only describe it as losing part of who you were and realising you have to leave it behind, in the place you once were proud to work for and be a part of.

To describe how it feels, I can compare it only to bereavement. The loss you feel after having devoted so much of your life to a vocation, nearly half in my case, is almost overwhelming. The circumstances of the how, why and wherefore, will be shared in subsequent blog posts.

My former colleagues are still there, the ones that bullied me, working in the same department as though nothing has happened. I'll get to them later.

So, bullying... it's a powerful word that elicits the strongest of feelings in us. Say you don't like someone, we go 'Meh.' Say you hate someone, and we lean in closer for more details.

Say so-and-so is picking on me, and we go 'Really, what are they doing?' Say so-and-so is bullying you, and you're immediately advised to speak to H.R.

Words are powerful things. As an author, myself and my colleagues in the literary world, be it, bloggers, readers or writers, know it all too well. That is how, after all, we connect with you within the pages of the book you are reading. We know the words that will make you laugh, cry, chill you to the bone and make you feel safe and happy.

Yet in the big, wide world, words can be dangerous tools. They can be twisted, misconstrued and altered every so slightly so that the meaning becomes completely different to what it once was.

Bullying is a pernicious problem in the NHS. The Guardian found, from a survey they conducted in 2016, that out of 1,500 doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, 81% of them had experienced bullying in some form, 44% continue to suffer.

There is plenty more research outside of The Guardian's study regarding bullying in the NHS. It is a well known fact within the walls of the health service that, not only is it a huge problem, but that it doesn't get taken nearly seriously enough.

I have witnessed it in many forms and have intervened in a few; perhaps not enough, certainly in one circumstance. But when raised, I received a 'Yeah, but that's not the same everywhere,' and a 'Don't you think we know that!'. The former was from a former Director of Nursing, the latter from a Clinical Matron.

As a 42-year-old man, the very fact that you utter the words 'I was bullied' is something that attempts to strip away your masculinity. It shouldn't, yet you cannot help but feel that way.

I was bullied at school, but that was physical.

I was bullied by my father, but that was psychological.

Yet, to be bullied by an organisation, one of the largest in the world, who has all the power when you have none, is a strange beast indeed.

It was not one person, but a corporate approach. Nurses have a fantastic habit of grouping together and closing ranks when threatened. When you are part of a team, that sense of family and security is like nothing I could possibly describe. To feel that way in your place of work is truly special.

But when you fall outside of that circle and that same, supportive network is turned against you, it is like a scene from 300. You will find it difficult, nigh on impossible to break through that defensive formation to highlight the truth.

I have been silent about this for more than a year. I turned up for work 16th December 2016, wearing my Christmas t-shirt as arranged and jumped into my manager's office, yelling "Way-hey, look what I have on!"

I received a sad smile and was told to follow her. All the way, I was asking if this was a Christmas thing, how exciting it was and why wouldn't she tell me where we were going? Embarrassing now, right? I felt like a right pratt afterwards, but I honestly thought it was a Christmas surprise,

It was, just not one I would have ever expected.