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A doctor in the NHS

Bullying and workplace grievances in the NHS

Our National Health Service - NHS

By Christine Pratt : 3 October 2018


The National Bullying Helpline speaks out regularly, publicly, about the disturbingly high level of NHS employee calls to the helpline. In some cases callers have been known to ask ‘Is that the NHS Bullying Helpline?’. For us, where we have just taken 8 or 10 NHS helpline calls in a row, it feels like it. Up to 80% of ‘work-related’ calls to The National Bullying Helpline are from public sector employees – predominantly NHS staff. We ask ourselves why. Simply, in our view, bullying in the workplace is more prevalent where there are:


a) Funding issues

b) Resourcing issues

c) High stress levels.


A combination of these three together, is a recipe for disaster. This category of caller includes NHS employees, Emergency Service employees, Council workers and even members of the Police and voluntary sector ie: other helplines or Charities.


In addition to the above (probably linked to the funding and resourcing issues), the NHS has a tendency to appoint senior medical personnel into Head of Department or Team Leader posts without first ensuring they have relevant people management skills, leadership training or basic employment law training. The HR Department is often tucked away in a remote corner of the Hospital. So, whilst these Line Managers may be excellent in their field of expertise, ie: medicine, they are not people managers. They are unlikely to understand Employee Relations, Corporate Risk or Duty of Care.


One Matron responsible for managing a Children’s Ward where there were over 30 Nurses said to us during an Investigation process “No, I don’t conduct Return to Work meetings or Exit Interviews. I don’t have the time. It’s a paperwork exercise I can do without. I complete the forms myself based on what I believe is relevant. No, HR don’t get copies. I file them away”.


That particular NHS Trust had high absenteeism statistics and a high turnover of staff. They were totally dependent on costly Agency Staff. Unfortunately, this scenario is not unique. The NHS is aware of the enormity of the problem.


When it comes to remedying an in-house employee grievance, the NHS is notoriously slow to take relevant, timely, action.  The Head of the Department is often too busy taking care of patients. Disciplinary and Grievances Investigations have been known to take months and months to complete and are often carried out by managers who lack basic employee relations skills.  Meanwhile, an aggrieved employee remains signed off work with Work Related Stress and the department relies on expensive Agency Staff. When it comes to engaging in Without Prejudice settlement talks, these NHS Trusts will shy away and say they do not have the funds. Simply, their Treasury Department will never approve of a settlement approach or sign it off.


As a result, the NHS takes risks. It’s a false economy in our view. In the majority of cases an aggrieved employee will either give up working (certainly within the NHS) transfer out or resign. Very few employees take the NHS to an Employment Tribunal …. or, at least, that is what the NHS would have you think.

We are UK Employment law and Conflict Resolution experts.

We specialise in workplace and harassment disputes and  offer employees practical support to help with bullying at work by managers and colleagues. Call 0845 22 55 787

Tribunal Losses involving the NHS

With the exception of unfair dismissal cases, the NHS are most likely to face race and disability discrimination claims.  One of the largest tribunal awards involved the case of Michalak v Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. It involved a sustained sex and race discrimination claim brought by Dr Eva Michalak against the Trust. The payout in this case exceeded £4.5 million.


In the case of Browne v Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, another race discrimination case, the employment tribunal awarded a senior NHS employee close to £1 million.


In the case of McGraw v London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, a discrimination arising from disability case which was brought under the Equality Act 2010, a Tribunal found against the NHS. It concerned a disciplinary action for bad behaviour where the employee suffered with mental health issues and the employer knew, or reasonably ought to have known, about that disability. Clearly, when the NHS is taken to an Employment Tribunal, the results can be financially crippling.


Just think how many NHS Managers and Heads of Department might have received line manager training with a £4.5 million budget.  Think about the cost-savings associated with Agency Staff, management time and legal costs linked to conflict resolution cases in the NHS across the UK. This will all have enabled the NHS to focus on what they do best.

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