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Bullying and harassment cost the NHS over £2bn a year, research reveals

Bullying and harassment cost the NHS over £2bn a year, research reveals
By Léa Legraien Reporter
24 October 2018

Bullying and harassment in the NHS costs more than £2bn a year, researchers have estimated.

A new study published in the journal Public Money and Management revealed that the impact of bullying and harassment in the NHS costs the health sector £2.3bn a year. This includes staff sickness absence, presenteeism, high employee turnover, low productivity and compensation.

The authors said the overall cost could be even higher, as there are a number of costs that there is currently insufficient evidence to accurately estimate. These include the cost of staff in need of counseling after witnessing bullying and investigations carried out by bodies including the CQC.

Increasing levels of bullying

According to the most recent NHS staff survey results published in March, nearly a quarter of staff (24%) reported to have been harassed, bullied or abused by other members of staff in the previous 12 months. This compares to 18% in 2012.

The authors found that sickness presenteeism – which describes staff working while being subject to bullying – cost the NHS the most with around £604m, due to a loss of productivity and a bigger scope for mistakes.

Professor Duncan Lewis, University of Plymouth chair in management and one of the study authors, said that given the increasing number of staff who report bullying, the current situation ‘requires much greater scrutiny’.

He added: ‘Estimating the financial cost of bullying shouldn’t come at the expense of the moral reasons for tackling bullying and harassment.

‘Nonetheless, if our paper means that NHS trust executives realise the heinous costs of bullying, they may then think about where the additional resources currently wasted through bullying and harassment might be better deployed, which ultimately means more effective patient care.’

Impact on patient care 

In addition to the high costs, a culture of bullying impacts on patient care, due to staff’s inability to do their job properly, the authors said.

They added: ‘Many bullied staff working in healthcare settings globally are less likely to speak up, less likely to admit mistakes and less likely to be effective in teamwork settings, all of which have the potential for direct and adverse consequences to patient safety and care.’

The authors said that the current staff surveys ‘fail to capture the types of behaviours often attributable to bullying’, which should be a ‘focus to design pertinent interventions’.

‘Capturing bystander/witness experiences are undocumented, as are workplace incivilities and staff satisfaction with policy and procedures for tackling bullying,’ they added.

‘Policy change is vital for accurately capturing the costs of bullying associated with absenteeism, staff replacement and productivity reductions and to use these as mechanisms to manage organizations that fail to address bullying.’

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