Toxic culture must be eradicated

For years our NHS has been plagued by reports of toxic workplace cultures and bullying. So much so that there have been external independent investigations into it – and countless calls for change.

We seemed to make some inroads – finally – in early 2020. But it took a pandemic to do it – in those early months there really was a much more collegiate, cooperative and coordinated approach to healthcare. The input of staff was truly appreciated and we stood together, regardless of grade, branch of practice, position – we were in it together and we were determined to come out the other side stronger.

Unfortunately – and in some ways unsurprisingly – as the pressures on the NHS have continued to rise in terms of covid, but also in the attempts to rebuild and recover the system, some of the old types of behaviours of pressurising staff – and frankly bullying them – to produce results have returned.

Prior to the pandemic, a lot of noise was made about eradicating bullying cultures within the workplace and the Scottish Government established a working group on NHS culture to explore this – unfortunately it was stood down as COVID-19 took hold, and the figures from the recent FOI carried out by the Scottish Conservatives into bullying emphasise firstly that the Scottish Government needs to give the strongest message to the NHS in Scotland these behaviours will not be tolerated, but it also looks very likely that something similar to that working group needs to be reconvened so that we can actually root out the causes of this for good.

It is simply not acceptable to treat staff in this way, whatever pressure the NHS is under. I cannot be any clearer that if the NHS is in any way going to recover from the last two and a half years – and of course the issues that existed before the pandemic started – treating staff in this way will only harm recruitment and retention.

So perhaps this is a timely reminder – though I’m certain many of us working within the NHS had never forgotten – that all of the old issues which plagued the NHS haven’t gone away and they continue to need substantive action. Everyone is stretched thin, almost to breaking point – and we deserve better.

Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland

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