“Are you doing your job well enough?” ... “Get out, I don’t want you here!” ... “I’m allowed because I’m management!”.
This is the type of comments from bosses that some staff at Scarborough Hospital say they have been putting up with for the past few years.
They say instances of bullying behaviour from their superiors began in 2014 when York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust took over the management of Scarborough and Bridlington hospitals.
New managers stepped in and brought in a “culture of superiority” that left staff feeling “belittled”, “upset” and “intimidated”, it is claimed.
Incidents of this kind have been identified by the health trust. However, they say it isn’t the “vast majority”.
Fuelling some people’s wish to speak out, despite the fear, are the latest tensions caused by cuts to services and a desire to let people know “what’s really going on” in the hospital wards of their own town.
One former employee told The Scarborough News: “I was being told that I wasn’t a team player, that I wasn’t doing my job right, and I was having conversations with my manager where they would just shout at me down the phone.
“I’d been doing my job for over 20 years, I never had any issues about my practice but all of a sudden I started doubting myself because that’s how they make you feel, like you should be doubting yourself.
“It had a huge effect on my mental health. I was off sick for a while and when I came back nothing really changed. To this date I still cannot enter Scarborough Hospital without feeling extremely anxious, and the person who was making my life a misery is still in post, treating staff in the same way.”
Amanda, which is not her real name, raised her issues with HR but these weren’t always taken seriously, she says.
She said York-based staff or staff who have been transferred to Scarborough from York have a “culture of superiority” and that her experience led her to believe that abusive behaviour of that kind was seen as acceptable.
Official figures show the extent of bullying within the health trust.
A report presented to the Board of Directors in January revealed that in 2018, 219 complaints were lodged as part of the trust’s Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. Of those, 72% contained elements of bullying (as categorised by the National Guardian Office). The national average is 45%.
A spokesperson for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said that only 27% of those 219 cases were classed as alleged bullying and/or harassment, a figure that equates to only 0.6% of its workforce.
Bullying victims, though, say the reason why the number of complaints is relatively low is because many staff are scared.
“Everyone lives under the shadow of ‘oh you better not say that’,”, said one. “People are so frightened they don’t dare put their heads above the parapet.”
According to the latest NHS staff survey, the number of staff at the trust reporting at least one incident of bullying behaviour from colleagues is increasing year on year.
In 2018 the figure rose to 20.4% – two points higher than the national average.
Read more: A closer look at the latest NHS figures
Chris Daly, regional officer for the union Unite, said the figures were “of great concern”.
He said: “They’re a clear illustration that the trust is failing to get a proper handle on this. The culture needs to change at all levels of the organisation and we need to help people make their voices heard. Twenty per cent is a considerable number – one person in five. The trust needs to acknowledge this and make sure that every single complaint is taken through their bullying procedure.”