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Monday 05 June 2017

Scapegoating and bullying rife in Scotland’s NHS, MSPs told

By MiP


The NHS in Scotland suffers from a “blame culture” where scapegoating and bullying behaviour are too common and staff feel unable to raise problems informally, according to MiP evidence to a Scottish parliamentary inquiry.

In written evidence drawn from members’ comments and surveys, the union told the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee that NHS Scotland “is blame-orientated with a culture of formal grievances to resolve matters which should be discussed informally first”. This often leads to unnecessary and lengthy investigations, and a failure to “nip problems in the bud”, the report said.

MiP’s evidence also pointed to a widespread perception that managers trying to performance manage staff under NHS Scotland’s capability policy were often unfairly accused of bullying and harassment – and could suffer suspension for up to 18 months as a result. 

Giving evidence before the committee on 30 May, MiP national officer Claire Pullar said people making complaints were rarely asked what they wanted out of the process. “Often they say, ‘I’d like an apology, I’d like it not to happen again, but I don’t want the manager suspended for 18 months while someone does an investigation that all my colleagues will have to go through as witnesses.”

She added: “How do we reintroduce certain skills that we have lost, such as talking to each other rather than putting in a grievance when people feel ticked off with with one of their managers?”

Mobbing and gaslighting

The union also highlighted how forms of bullying behaviour against managers such as ‘mobbing’ and ‘gaslighting’, which often go unrecognised, could lead to managers taking sick leave from work or needing mental health support.

“Unacceptable behaviour is sometimes used to bring a senior manager down. Senior managers experience ‘mobbing’ actions that can lead to them being removed from their roles,” said the report. It said ‘gaslighting’, a form of psychological manipulation involving deliberate distorting or denying of the truth, was an increasingly serious problem and should be recognised as a form of bullying behaviour.

MiP also criticised both the Scottish and UK governments for scapegoating NHS managers and treating them with disdain. “They are referred to a ‘bureaucrats’ and not as they should be seen – as skilled, essential managers deliver patient-centric health services,” said the union’s report. “Our members are entitled to dignity in their workplace as the guardians of staff who report to them – clinical and administrative.”

Devastating impact on careers

In response to questions from the committee about whistleblowing policies in the NHS in Scotland, Pullar warned that, although vital, many managers saw whistleblowing as another “blame-orientated” process.

She told the committee: “I have evidence from senior managers here who say they have never seen someone raise concerns through whistleblowing and not seen it have a devastating impact on them personally – whether it’s on their career or their relationships with colleagues.

“It’s still a very blame-orientated process… It’s a very undignified way of doing it, but we need whistleblowing and we need people to feel safe whistleblowing – and at the moment I don’t think they do.”

Read MiP’s full evidence to the Health and Sport committee’s inquiry into NHS culture and governance, and evidence from other unions and professional bodies, on the inquiry webpage.

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