Possible causes for health service bullying – Sturrock review

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP and Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, David Stewart, says the Sturrock review shines a light on the possible causes of the pressures encountered by front line staff.

He highlights a section in the report on possible causes of bullying and harassment in the NHS and he accuses the Government of taking health service staff for granted for far too long.

Although Sturrock says there are multiple causes of the symptoms, detailed in the report, he touches on increased pressure to perform and meet targets.
Sturrock says: “…over the past ten years in times of austerity, with budget restrictions and reduced spending, financial constraints can often lead to people feeling overwhelmed at work with too much to do and not enough time or resource.

This is likely to cause stress and may lead to behaviour which is inappropriate. I have heard a number of examples of this, with senior and other employees at breaking point.”

Mr Stewart said: “There is no doubt that austerity is harming our public services and Sturrock shines a light on what the result can be – staff being bullied and harassed due to financial constraints being placed on them.

“While nothing excuses bullying in the work place, this factor has to be seriously looked into. I think most people will see the results of pressure in their work place, but add to this growing staff shortages in the health service, and particularly in NHS Highland, and a picture is building of the possible effect on staff and managers’ behaviours.”

In Parliament yesterday Mr Stewart’s Labour Highlands and Islands colleague, Rhoda Grant, raised concerns that problems within NHS Highland, and throughout the Scottish health service, were fed by staff shortages and cuts putting enormous pressure on staff.

She asked Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, how she was going to tackle this but Ms Freeman did not accept that a significant proportion of difficultly was around the financial resourcing of the boards.

Mrs Grant said today: “Our health service is in crisis and the SNP Government are in denial and have dragged their feet about tackling problems created by austerity. It’s time they took their heads out of the sand.”

Sturrock was told from one employee: “Austerity has been a major factor. The NHS was used to solutions made out of additional investment from Government. When this becomes no longer possible, the pressure within the entire NHS system increased.”

One director told Sturrock: “As a senior leader I have felt bullied and harassed by the organisation, by the Scottish Government. What I do believe is that in the NHS now people are feeling so pressurised. It’s a horrible environment. It’s targets. It’s finance. It’s political. Populist policies don’t have the resources to fill them. NHSH is just one health board of many that are suffering.”

Mr Stewart added: “NHS staff are the bedrock of our health service, but they have been taken for granted by the Government for too long.

“To see real change in the working environments and culture across health and social care, health boards and the Scottish Government need to address the systemic issues that are causing health and care professionals to become disillusioned and burnt out.”

Mr Stewart said he would be raising these issues as a member of the Health and Sport Committee and with Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman.

* After Ms Freeman’s statement on the Sturrock review yesterday Mr Stewart told MSPs: “NHS Highland is my home board area. I have dealt with the board for over 20 years in two Parliaments, from the chief executive and boards members, to cleaners and patients. No amount of experience prepared me for the GMB organised event in the autumn of last year. Over 60 people attended who spoke with one voice on the toxic culture of bullying within the organisation. Can the Cab Sec outline what new system can be put in place for all those who lost jobs, who left jobs and who suffered mental health problems. We must never forget their experience.
Mr Stewart also asked Ms Freeman what assessment had been made of the effect bullying had had on the credibility of NHS Highland and its ability to recruit and retain staff.