Friday, 17 August 2018

You can't be against bullying without actually doing something about it.

The above title is from a quote by Randi Weingarten, an American activist.

The essence of it sits firmly and appropriately at the foot of many businesses and organisations, no more so than the NHS.

I say it sits firmly at the base of our beloved health service because they do absolutely nothing about it.

In fact, I have had it said to my face that 'we don't have an issue with bullying here'.


Tell that to the more than 100 NHS employees who have contacted me from one organisation alone, telling me the stories of bullying in this particular NHS trust in the north of England.

I have more than 30 from another in the North East NHS hospital and have been contacted by more than 10 from one in the Newcastle/Tyneside area.

So, what does this tell you?

It tells you that either they are ignorant about it and actually, honestly believe that bullying doesn't take place in their organisation, or they know and do nothing about it.

I happen to know it is the latter in one particular case, as I was told that they know about bullying but because the individuals hadn't wanted to take it down a formal route, they did nothing.


They knew it was happening but did nothing.

If that makes you feel a little sick or angry, it should.

And before anyone decides to ask why am I attacking, yet again, our wonderful NHS, I will say it is wonderful. It performs procedures that are tantamount to miracles, has some of the most amazing and inspired nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, domestics, estates departments and pathology technicians known to man (I could go on, but you get the gist. There are lots of amazing people there).

But it is undeniable that the NHS also has, in its employee, some of the worst examples of humanity possible.

One case in point.

Rhian Collins hanged herself recently after reportedly being sworn at, bullied and given the worst shifts by colleagues at a mental health hospital.

So, let's break that down for a moment and discuss the elephant in the room.

Shifts - so many suck when you are a nurse on a ward, for no other reason than there are not enough of you.

"Oh, yes there are!" a CEO shouts in a repeat of the rhetoric they spout every, single when claiming the wards have enough staff.

Well, you would say that as you have absolutely no medical experience whatsoever and are sat in a large office with your head so far up your arse you can taste your own breakfast. It is what they all say.

"Well, you have 62 staff nurses on the roster."

"We do, but 36 of them are off on the sick and 4 are on maternity leave, not to mention the 14 on holiday, so we actually have 8 nurses who can actually work... on a 36 bedded ward... to cover 7 days a week, 24 hours a day... and need days off in between shifts.

I know I have exaggerated the figures there, but the point stands and is exactly how most hospitals consider the off duty.

"I'll tell you what, why don't you just borrow the non-clinical staff from somewhere else, like IPC or Practice Development or Research?"

"Well, we could but that doesn't solve the problem and whilst they are here, who is doing their jobs?"

And on it goes.

Every nurse will have a variation on a theme of the same story.

So, basically, shifts can either be terrible or nice, depending on those statistical variables that you can never account for.

But, moving that aside, let's look at the bullying aspect.

The reports state that Rhian, a mother of two children, was treated so badly that she began to struggle with the stress of her job. She was reported as appearing rundown on the month before her tragic death, with her statements of wishing to 'walk into the sea' dismissed as throwaway comments.

That, right there, is a vital point and something that so many campaigns nowadays are trying to get society to address - no one should dismiss a suggestion of suicide.

Now, there is an argument that someone who goes around saying they will kill themselves is unlikely to do it, as it is only a cry for help.

Someone deadly serious about wishing to end their life will just go and do it without much, if any, foreshadowing.

I didn't tell anyone. Kelly just kind of... suspected that I was going to do something.

But, and I firmly believe this is so very important, it should never, ever be dismissed out of hand if someone threatens it, because, even if it is a cry for help (and often it may well be), it doesn't mean that someone isn't serious.

Rhian Collins had two children who I know will have been her entire world and a fiance she loved; I had, at the time, two children and a wife who is, was and will always be my world, but I had no qualms about leaving them for good on 26th December 2016.

So, what could have made Rhian feel that nothing in life held any meaning or purpose any longer; made her feel her children and fiance weren't enough to keep her here? What kind of individuals could have made her feel that she was so worthless and had so little to offer that she would want to leave behind all those who adored her?

What kind of organisation allows such individuals to continue working without sanction or punishment?

In a court of law, if you are found guilty of having played a part in killing someone, you are guilty of manslaughter.

In the NHS, if you cause someone to take their own life, you appear to get a promotion and definitely get to keep your job, even after it has been proven you are an out and out bully who has caused untold torment to others.

Carl McQueen was found hanged in his grandfather's home on 12th February 2016 after being bullied by fellow paramedics, who would tease him about his medical student status, leaving chicken wing bones in his mug, leave signs next to his name saying 'child at work' and telling him he was shit at his job.

Yes, an investigation had begun concerning the death of a patient in his care, but that was an incident that had occurred months prior and had only just been decided to be treated as a serious untoward incident. Because, in so many cases, the employees in the NHS do not follow their own policies and procedures, otherwise why would it take a month and a half to decide that a patient's death actually warrant investigation?

His line manager stated that he hated to make a distinction between bullying and banter and that he didn't feel it was directed towards Carl.

"Where you struggle, there's support; where there's normal running you scrawl obscenities on the bottom of each other's mugs. That's the nature."


I was big on banter and had some of it thrown back at me once upon a time (I said to a friend once when I saw her that, because her hair was dishevelled, had she come in on a motorbike without a helmet? This individual was my friend, remains my friend and stood by me throughout many circumstances; the individual who used it against me was actually just someone in the background, not the recipient and it was twisted so that I was being 'abusive') but nothing like obscenities or insults.

As for Carl, the trust said they accept the findings of the inquest, and admitted they didn't follow policy and opportunities were missed.

I'm certain that went a long way to helping Carl's family and wife move on because, you know, they didn't think it was an issue whilst he reported bullying whilst alive, but once dead, then you can look back with hindsight and go, ooops. Our bad. We should have perhaps followed the policies that were there in the first place to protect staff.

Except they don't, not only because they are often not followed, but because they are not fit for purpose and haven't moved with the times.

Every hospital/medical facility etc has an Occupational Health department or liaison for physical ailments and/or injuries. Why is there no immediate contact for mental health issues, staff suffering from stress, anxiety...

Yes, you can be referred to a therapist which takes weeks if not months, but why is there no one on. call, 24 hours a day to be there for those who need someone to talk to?

Instead of wasting money, which the NHS does on a regular basis with failed I.T experiments, prospected electronic notes that only end up being used in one particular place, huge bonuses for chief executives (factoid, dear readers; chief executives get paid more than both the Prime Minister and the President of the United States of America. I know they are responsible for the actions of their subordinates and may go to jail if held accountable; like that has ever happened; but seriously, one of those individuals has control over the world's nuclear arsenal, but the chief executive of a hospital gets paid more).

Is the word obscene? You can decide the correct and appropriate designation.

We need to address the issue of individuals being paid more than they deserve and the nurses and medical staff being paid next to nothing, alongside the fact that money needs to be funnelled into mental health support for the staff (and maybe even some executives) to prevent staff from suffering.

But aside this necessary service, something needs to be done, right now, about the issue of bullying.

The above are just a few who have lost their lives due to the culture of bullying in the NHS. In essence, by ignoring such behaviour, certain individuals in those trusts may as well have tied a knot themselves.

Make no mistake, bullies are responsible for those wonderful individuals losing their lives.

Taking their lives.

Because a person or people made them feel so worthless that they felt there was no other option but to leave behind those who loved them.

And what of the bullies? I mentioned earlier that often nothing is done.

I can attest to the fact nothing is done. They are supported, protected and even encouraged to continue with their behaviour.

It is believed by those in positions of power that such behaviour demonstrates strength, that they are able to challenge inappropriate behaviour and to make a difference.

The irony, the sad irony, is that the inappropriate behaviour is all their own and that they are cowards who take pleasure in making others miserable, with no consequences whatsoever.

When will Janet Davies (RCN), Simon Stevens (NHS Choices), David Behan (CCG), Sue Killen (NMC), Matt Hancock (Minister for Health) stand up and acknowledge that this insidious culture of bullying is ever present in the NHS and needs to be addressed? The acknowledgement that it exists is the first important step in addressing the issue.

It is the worst kept secret in the health service. Everyone knows it goes on, but no one wants to mention it.

People are dying, just as though they have been infected with a fatal illness. And perhaps they have. Words have a way of permeating through your skin, working their way into your soul and corrupting your being, your character, your personality and your survival instict.

It's impossible to hypnotise someone to death as our survival instinct is too strong, yet we can convince someone to take their own life using words whilst the person is very much awake and aware.

And no one seems to care.

So we will continue to highlight the issue so that they do care.

I will continue to highlight the issue until someone shows they care and wish to do something to change it.

It only takes one organisation to acknowledge the issue and others will follow, as sure as the sun follows the moon.

A great individual once said, 'The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.'

Let's become the majority.