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16 December 2020

New study finds prevalent and harmful harassment and discrimination within NHS healthcare workforce

Researchers at King’s College London have found prevalent and harmful harassment and discrimination committed by and against NHS staff working in London Trusts. Furthermore, women, Black ethnic groups and migrant NHS staff were more likely to experience harassment and discrimination.

Female healthcare worker sat looking pained with her head on her hand

Reported incidents of workplace discrimination and bullying, harassment and abuse from NHS staff have steadily increased over the past five years, particularly in London Trusts. This study specifically looked at mistreatment of staff by their colleagues, excluding the more commonly reported cases involving patients or their families.

The study, published in the BJPsych Open today, analysed survey data from over 900 healthcare practitioners from 33 London trusts who participated in the Tackling Inequalities and Discrimination in Healthcare Services (TIDES) study funded by the Wellcome Trust. Participants completed a survey designed to assess their workplace experiences, perceptions of their workplace and their health and wellbeing.

Researchers found that 20% of the sample reported experiencing discrimination and 41% reported experiencing bullying, harassment or abuse. The study showed that experiencing workplace discrimination and harassment was associated with poor mental health and physical health, long term sickness absence and low job satisfaction. Moreover, that witnessing such discrimination and harassment can also negatively impact staff’s experience.

This impact on the NHS is substantial - particularly given that currently NHS staff are placed under additional strain due to COVID-19. This is all the more pertinent for those from racial and ethnic minority groups who, as well as having to navigate greater exposure to discrimination and harassment, are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Lead author Dr Rebecca Rhead, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London

The authors suggest potential interventions should include structural changes to the way staff are supported and how their complaints can be addressed by leaders within the institution.

This requires urgent development and deployment of effective workplace interventions to mitigate the effect these experiences have on staff.

Senior author Professor Stephani Hatch from King’s IoPPN and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Society and Mental Health

She continued, ‘Within the context of an already stretched and under-resourced NHS, combating poor job satisfaction and high turnover rates which ultimately impact upon quality healthcare, requires the value of all staff to be visibly and continuously reinforced by all management and senior leaders.’

This research is funded by the ESRC as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

TIDES is an ongoing investigation into racial and ethnic inequalities experienced by healthcare practitioners. It is currently interviewing frontline health and social care staff and senior NHS leaders from across England. TIDES has also partnered with NHS CHECK to launch an inequalities survey designed to assess how COVID-19 has affected racial and ethnic inequalities in the NHS with additional funding from the ESRC.

TIDES findings are being reported directly to policy makers and used to create new and innovative training and intervention resources for NHS staff across the country.

‘The impact of workplace discrimination and harassment among NHS staff working in London Trusts: Results from the TIDES study’ Rebecca Rhead et al published by BJPsych Open

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

For further information and interviews please contact Louise Pratt, Head of Communications at IoPPN King’s College London: / +44 7850 919020

In this story

Rebecca Rhead headshot

Lecturer in Society and Mental Health

Professor Stephani Hatch

Vice Dean for Culture, Diversity & Inclusion