Headlines: January 12th, 2006

An NHS hospital trust faces a call today to develop a programme to promote zero tolerance of bullying and harassment. The call comes from the Healthcare Commission after an investigation into the East Sussex Hospitals Trust, triggered by concerns from staff and a local GP.At the same time the Commission is publishing a report commending a second trust – the Devon Partnership – for its efforts to tackle allegations of bullying and harassment and to improve staff morale and working relationships.

The Commission’s investigation into the East Sussex Trust found the perception of bullying and harassment among staff in the organisation was particularly high but there was no evidence that the actual number of allegations of bullying and harassment that was recorded was significantly higher than at other trusts of a similar size.

It found, though, that senior managers did not take action to find out more about the staff’s perceptions so they could deal with them appropriately. Problems between staff took a long time to resolve, and some were left unresolved. The investigation also found inconsistencies in advice to staff from the human resources department and staff felt discouraged from submitting formal grievances.

Marcia Fry, Head of Operational Development at the Healthcare Commission said the Trust was already working towards improving the communication and relationships between staff and she added, “There is a message here for the NHS – neither bullying or harassment of staff nor the perception of it can be tolerated. A clear and consistent approach on how to deal with staff grievances is crucial in providing a good working environment, which will in turn lead to a better service for patients.”

Meanwhile the Commission’s review of the Devon Partnership Trust shows reports of bullying and harassment have reduced significantly since 2003. Since the review had begun the trust had made progress in addressing the issues raised and a policy on acceptable behaviour had been developed and agreed in principle. It had also introduced a hotline for staff to raise issues directly with the chief executive. A forum had been established to bring senior clinicians and managers together to influence decision making and the human resources department had been restructured.

Marcia Fry said the Commission was impressed with the progress the Trust had made in tackling the issues raised in its review. “Staff are an organisation’s most important asset and it is fundamental that they are treated with respect,” she said.