Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 3
Okay, so before anyone gets there first, I need to say that the NHS is a fantastic organisation.
Aneurin Bevan spearheaded not only one of the greatest establishments the U.K has ever seen, but a system of free healthcare for all that remains unequalled in the world.
I have seen inspired surgery carried out, met and cared for hundreds of patients while working on a ward, had hundreds of amazing nurses become part of the periphery of my life and be part of something truely unique.
There is no vocation like it, anywhere in my humble opinion.
But which ever way you choose to cut it, it didn't use to be like this. I don't mean the circumstances I'm sharing, I mean the lack of humility, responsibility for staff, the caring and protective nature that used to be an everyday part of your working day.
This is present amongst friends and colleagues of course, not all, but many; from higher up in the echelons of the organisation, where decisions are made without any consideration of the repercussions or consequences, there is a distinct lack of understanding or what constitutes a pleasant working environment. Not a calm one - that doesn't exist in nursing. But the most horrendous, stressful, traumatic day can be tempered knowing that when you return the next day or perhaps the following, you will feel appreciated, love, protected for the care you provided and most importantly, supported.
And what the NHS and particularly, the unnamed establishment I am referring to, do not understand at all, is mental health. Not amongst, patients, though that could be better outside of the actual mental health hospitals, but amongst staff.
According to the Department of Health, in 2014 1,497 nurses at 31 trusts took time off related to stress in the workplace, more than 27% in 2012.
This is multi-factorial and not explicitly related to the bullying culture I am referring to. Increasing pressures, acuity of patients, the life expectancy of patients, reduced funding and provisions, all play a part. As a nurse, the one thing you wish to do is care for others; that is why you choose to do it. When you are unable to do that because of bureaucracy, it becomes a spiral of frustrations, irritations and potential problems in an organisation that relies on its workforce; it's very colleagues, to maintain a coherent and functional service.
But it cannot be denied that bullying plays enough if its part.
It is a silent epidemic that no one wants to talk about or admit, but everyone knows exists in one form or another. It isn't, of course, necessary physical (though that sadly does occur in some circumstances). No, it is far more insidious and capricious nowadays. Indeed where I was, I realised that they had governed and nurtured a culture of fear and compliance rather than learning and enthusiastic participation in improvement. But you don't have to take my word for it.
Robert Francis QC repeatedly referred to bullying as a key driver of the toxic culture at Mid Staffordshire hospital -- yet made not a single recommendation about stopping it. Bullying was not mentioned in the Government’s response to the Francis Report.
In 2009, Sir Ian Kennedy, then departing chair of the Healthcare Commission (now CQC), warned about the “corrosive” impact of bullying among NHS staff. He said bullying worried him “more than anything else” in the NHS and was “permeating the delivery of care with a culture that was now one of the biggest untalked about problems in the delivery of good care to patients.”
Of course, the flip side is that there is a risk bullying will be reported that doesn't constitute bullying and because that word has been used (as discussed in Part 1), immediately there is a knee-jerk reaction instead of a considered and unbiased process.
When I was 14, I had no real friends. Remember, spotty, geeky child (I used to wear my Batman t-shirts beneath my school shirt, as though having them on and keeping them close would imbue me with some courage or strength. It did neither, but no harm, no foul!). A few children used to speak to me and invite me to chat and meet up with them, but I realised later in life that they were never really invested in me as a person and a friend (which is, of course, fine. That is an individual's prerogative... "No, you MUST be friends with me, 'cause my Mum said!!").
But this one day, I was asked if I wanted to meet a load of them before they went to the youth club. Oh, wow, was I excited! I couldn't believe it. Me, they asked me, to go with them? Fantastic!"
I was told what to wear, specifically, to fit in and raced home after school to tell Mum and to say we had to go to the shops to get these items of clothing.
You can see where this is going, can't you?
So, I turn up at the designated meeting point, beneath the Regent Cinema, in my purple stretchy tracksuit bottoms and my purple hooded top, nice white trainers and thinking I looked excellent... I was the coolest. How great they asked me to join them. I was so chuffed. I finally didn't have to be lonely at school.
I think they maybe stopped laughing at me after about ten minutes. Any sensible child/teenager would have seen what was going to happen. But not David the Stupid, no way.
Doh! Bollocks. Crap. For crying out loud. Bugger and so on and so forth.
Anyway, back to my attempted suicide.
Now, I won't bore you with details of my pathetic, selfish attempt to take my life. That is all in a previous blog post. Needless to say that I came in at about 0400, drunk and made my way to the kitchen where I removed a knife, sat on the floor and without pretty much any thought at all, started bringing it viciously across my right wrist.
Nothing. You know why?
Kelly had removed all of the sharp knives in her prescient moment earlier that day.
What did I have to say about it, at that very moment?
"Did you get these in Ikea, 'cause they don't cut shit."
Much crying, cuddles, kind, soft words that everything will be okay and that was pretty much it (I'm shortening it for brevity and keeping you awake!).
Scars on my arms and body - 1
Scars on my wrist - 0
So, a few letters are sent my way, bearing in mind I still know absolutely nothing apart from my weekly phone call I receive where my lovely, not at all patronising H.R rep tells me he can't tell me anything and will speak to me next week.
Your mind races in such circumstances. I had pretty much worked out who it could have been you had accused me of bullying, but then you second guess everything you ever said and did.
Was I a bully?
I'd had a few words with her about her behaviour and attitude towards junior colleagues. It wasn't heated, but it was emotionally charged.
But bullying? It couldn't be, could it?
Though no one is supposed to contact me, two people go out of their way top just check I am okay - one via a friend and one directly. Two lovely individuals who I got on so well with, but didn't think I mattered to that much, have broken policy to just ask how I am. One even said they had been told they weren't allowed to contact me, but said that was ridiculous and contacted me anyway just to ask about me; not work, not the situation, just me.
I shall never forget it.
February is when I am first given any indication of what is going on. Not whom and what was said, but from the questions, I am asked I can kinda work it out.
"Can you please give a background of working with the Trust and current team?"
"A meeting was held in the Boardroom (15th December am) with so-and-so and so-and-so. Can you talk me through what happened that morning from when you came into work?"
Bearing in mind, this was more than two months later. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast!
"Did you discuss so-and-so with thingamabob?"
"Did you say this?"
"Did you say that?
"Why did so-and-so draft a statement and give it to you?"
"It's a serious allegation to have made that so-and-so was bullying."
Really? But not the same kind of serious that was levied at me because here I am and they are still at work? Explain that to me? Is my allegation of bullying not as valid as her allegations of bullying? Is it because mine affects junior staff, it isn't as important, but as this is a senior staff issue, it automatically because important?
"Did you actually raise these concerns with so-and-so?"
"Okay, moving on, have you ever commented on timekeeping?"
What, that's it for the bullying issue? That is all the credence you are paying for what I just told you?
"I understand so-and-so request for annual leave was declined?"
Seriously? That is what we are talking about here? I was told at the time of my suspension serious bullying allegations had been made. You are asking me about annual leave requests!
"It has been suggested you refer to the team as 'my girls'. Would you not agree this is sexist?"
Well, I guess, now it is said that way. They would send me photos with the captions 'your girls' from nights out, so I only thought of it as banter and familiarity. Now you say it, I never thought I was being sexist, but I can see now how it could have been seen that way.
"You reported that it dawned on you so-and-so might be bullying other Band 6's - were you told this or was this your perception?"
No, I saw it, heard it and was given statements - verbally and written - that this was the case.
"Do you recall a conversation on 5th December 2016?"
You have got to be kidding me? That was more than three months ago. What conversation? What time of the day?
"What do you consider disloyal?"
And on and on it went, for nearly three hours.
And that was just day one!
I reflected when I returned home that day. I did use to refer to the team as 'my girls' and, in hindsight, it was inappropriate. Not meant in a harmful way, but I could see, now my political and social ignorance were being addressed, it was not right.
Of course, I didn't mean it in a proprietary way. I meant it in an affectionate one. But it wasn't proper. It wasn't all the time, of course, but even once, it wasn't how a lead nurse should title his colleagues.
I was sad, so sad and heartbroken and being called a bully and still not knowing what I had done.