Bullying could be costing the NHS £2bn per year

New research shows that the severe impact of bullying and harassment throughout the NHS could be costing the organisation at least £2bn a year

According to new research published in Public Money & Management, bullying and harassment in the NHS could be costing the organisation over £2bn per year.

The financial cost of bullying in relation to sickness absence, employee turnover, productivity, sickness presenteeism and employment relations – gauged by NHS Digital – has been combined to produce an overall figure of £2.281bn per year. Of each individual component, sickness presenteeism was estimated to have the biggest financial impact.

Described as the productivity lost when staff continue to come to work while being bullied – meaning they are more prone to making mistakes – presenteeism alone was estimated to cost £604.4m. This is double the cost of sickness absence because of bullying.

Study authors, Professor Duncan Lewis and Dr Roger Kline, described the overall cost as ‘extremely cautious’, as there are several costs that lack reliable evidence to estimate accurately. These include the impact upon spectators of bullying at work (who may need additional healthcare or counselling due to witnessing bullying), NHS reputational damage and investigation costs for bodies such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The overall cost is therefore likely to be substantially higher.

In the most recent NHS England staff survey, almost a quarter of staff reported being bullied or harassed by colleagues. In an extremely pressurised working environment, concerns are growing about NHS staff wellbeing and patient safety.

The study’s authors hope that this research will give policymakers a crucial financial incentive to tackle bullying in the NHS.

“The NHS in recent years has seen an increase in reported levels of bullying to the point where its impact requires much greater scrutiny,” said Professor Lewis, of the University of Plymouth.

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“Research has increasingly demonstrated the risks to patient care and safety, but not addressed the cost to the organisational effectiveness of the NHS. We hope this study kick-starts serious attention to the substantial diversion of funding away from patient care that current levels of bullying cause.”

To address this problem, the study’s authors suggest improving existing staff surveys to better capture the types of behaviours attributable to bullying, and to understand how staff feel about current procedures to tackle workplace bullying.

These methods could not only lead to a happier, more productive workforce, but also save vast amounts of money that could be directed elsewhere, to areas such as patient care.

Professor Lewis added: “Estimating the financial cost of bullying should not come at the expense of the moral reasons for tackling bullying and harassment. Nonetheless, if our paper means that NHS Trust executives realise the heinous costs of bullying, they may then think about where the additional resources currently wasted through bullying and harassment might be better deployed, which ultimately means more effective patient care.”

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