Bullying costing health service, INMO conference hears

Harassment and intimidation considered ‘a sign of good management’

Austerity has put health service managers under more pressure to deliver services with fewer resources, with the result that staff are being harassed, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation conference has heard.

Austerity has put health service managers under more pressure to deliver services with fewer resources, with the result that staff are being harassed, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation conference has heard.

Fri, May 9, 2014, 16:51

Delegates at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation conference have passed a motion urging the union to take a more proactive approach on bullying in the workplace.

Mary Love from Bantry,Co Cork said bullying was “the elephant in the room” in the health service. “Bullied staff cost more in sick leave, low efficiency and pensions,” she said.

She blamed the continuing prevalence of the problem on the hierarchical style of management in the health service, where bullying was considered “a sign of good management”.

Austerity was putting managers under more pressure to deliver services with fewer resources, with the result that staff were being harassed, she said.

Mary McCormack from Co Waterford described the amount of bullying going on as “unbelievable” and “rampant”. “The thing about bullying is the subtleness. It’s the talking behind your backs, the sneaky sidewards looks, the clicking of pens during meetings, the undermining of you in every way.”

She said she was bullied by a colleague and her confidence was affected for years after. It required external mediation to be resolved.

Bullying now was worse than it was 20 or 30 years ago, according to Kay Garvey, who described how she felt physically sick at the bullying she witnessed, including one incident where “12 girls” were reduced to tears at a meeting with management.

Managers were forgetting they had a duty of care to staff, she said while there was increasing intimidation from hospital visitors. In some cases, visitors were videoing staff or putting up material on Facebook.

Madeline Spiers said 10-15 per cent of people who were bullied go on to become bullies themselves. There was a layer of senior managers and nurses in the Irish health service who are “damaged people” and who were inflicting this damage on staff.

Senior health managers were well aware of the problems at Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise long before recent controversy over the deaths of a number of newborns in the maternity unit, delegates were told.

Joe Hoolan, a clinical nurse manager at the hospital, said Portlaoise was visited by all the clinical care groups over the years, as well as Department of Health and the Special Delivery Unit.

“We met them all the time. The problems were all well known in that hospital.”

“It was essentially abandoned many years ago, no resources were put into it. It got busier and busier and busier.”

“The maternity unit is a typical example of what happens when you treat a hospital in that manner. Their midwifery staffing numbers decreased, they were never increased and then mistakes were made. And unfortunately from the management’s perspective they weren’t learned from.”

Mr Hoolan said officials from clinical care programmes and the Department visited the hospital again after the publication last February of a critical report into infant deaths at the hospital. However, there had been no feedback since then.

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