Speaking during a debate at the Royal College of Nursing Congress today, members told of a “toxic culture” of bullying that is staining the profession and leaving some fearful to go to work.
“I feel very angry that there are days when I feel ashamed of my profession”
They passed a resolution urging the RCN to lobby for tougher laws to tackle this behaviour among health staff, insisting current policies were not working.
Presenting the motion, Lancashire West branch member Maggy Heaton warned: “We would like bullying to be mandated in law by holding a responsible person to account to address this toxic culture.”
Ahead of the vote dozens of members queued up for a chance on stage to tell their own personal stories.
Graham Revie, from the RCN stewards committee, said he used to dread the sound of his alarm clock and would wake up in fear each morning because he was being bullied at work.
“This is a cultural issue congress that we really need to address,” he urged.
He added: “Healthcare does not have a good record on this. Legislative measures are not going to make the change, they will assist us in making the change.”
Nursing professor Kevin Crimmons, a member from Birmingham, said the way some students were treated in clinical placements made him “ashamed” of the nursing profession.
“I’m extremely proud to be the head of adult nursing at Birmingham City University,” he told delegates.
“However, I am appalled by the stories that come back from placement from students about how they are treated when they are out,” he added.
“I feel very angry that there are days when I feel ashamed of my profession,” Mr Crimmons said.
He called on nurses to call students by their name during placements rather than “the student”.
“We need to have sanctions, we need call these people to account”
His demand was backed by Liverpool student nurse Lia Cooper who said she was “absolutely sick and tired” of being referred to as “the student”.
“You wonder why we leave the profession,” she added.
“We are saying ‘fund our future’ but you can’t fund our future if you are making us disengaged, wanting us to emotionally not be on that ward because we are not included in the team, not part of the family,” added Ms Cooper, referring to the RCN’s campaign for investment in higher education for nurses called Fund Our Future.
Student information officer Savannah Crowder, from the Leicestershire branch, said negative behaviour by staff during placements was making students reconsider their career choice.
“You constantly hear how student nurses are getting ignored, student nurses are made to feel like they are burdens when they are there to learn and they are there to grow,” she said.
“We are the future and we want to be here and we want to be nurses but so many people are being made to question whether they want to be a nurse and whether they can actually do it before they have even manged to start on the career ladder and that’s not okay,” added Ms Crowder.
She noted how nurses were told to care for patients but they were not doing the same for each other.
Amy Robinson, a trainee nursing associate from North Devon, said trainee nursing associates and nursing associates had faced “indirect discrimination” from others at congress.
“Although I have had an amazing week here, it’s been somewhat overshadowed by the indirect discrimination we have witnessed,” she told delegates.
“I urge people to find out more about NA and TNAs, because we are proud to be part of the nursing family and we are here to stay so we please ask you to accept us as part of the team,” she added.
Stuart Crawford, from the Inner North East London branch, said he had been bullied all his life because of his disability.
He said he was told to “just get on with it” if he complained about being abused by service users in the workplace.
“You constantly hear how student nurses are getting ignored”
Hannah Gray, a nurse from the Hampshire branch, said she was backing the resolution because she had a friend who was bullied “every single time she walked onto a ward” and was struggling to get support.
Colleen White, member of the Southern branch, branded the problem “despicable, deplorable and an absolute disgrace”.
“We need to have sanctions, we need call these people to account,” she added.
Nurses in the debate overwhelmingly supported the resolution, which stated: “That this meeting of congress condemns the failure by governments across the UK to introduce legislation to prevent bullying in the workplace and urges the RCN Council to insist that this is addressed urgently.”