Hhundreds of medical professionals are being bullied and harassed in hospitals every year including a nurse who says she was 'worked to death'. According to the New Zeland unions which represent doctors and nurses, bullying cases happened at all levels of the health sector, and often went unreported.
Donna Barraclough remembers the day she threw her nursing badge across the room – she finally had enough of coming home from work crying, the sleepless nights and feeling broken.
"I said to my husband 'that's it; I'm done with nursing'," Barraclough said.
The registered nurse had been nursing for more than two decades when bullying pushed her to the point of wanting to give up her dream job of helping others.
Barraclough was bullied by fellow nurses at Taranaki Base Hospital in 2006, and she said the bullying of nurses is still taking place more than ten years later. Barraclough is one of the many nurses who reported her bullying before quitting and moving to a different region – "I got to the point where it was untenable for me".
"The behaviour I experienced was just quite shocking – I had more work scrutinised, I was kept out of the loop with conversations and what was going on in the unit, I had people who wouldn't talk to me, I was worked to death," Barraclough said.
"I started losing my confidence, I started second guessing myself, and it was a downward spiral for me."
She said she subsequently developed health issues, including anxiety attacks, as a result of her experiences at work.
"It really had a huge effect on my health," she said. "I was broken. I was totally broken."
Taranaki DHB chief operating officer Gillian Campbell said they took bullying "extremely seriously".
"We encourage a culture of treating each other and our patients with trust, respect and compassion and we aim to create healthy, safe work environments."
In the past five years, Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) had the highest number of disciplinary action cases for bullying and harassment out of Auckland's three DHBs, with 113, according to data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA).
There were 17 cases in 2013, rising to 32 in 2017. In comparison, Auckland DHB had 11 bullying cases in the last five years. It jumped from one case in 2014 to six in 2017.
The OIA also showed that a total of 1535 disciplinary actions had occurred at Auckland's three DHBs between 2013 and 2017.
In Waikato, an OIA showed there were 11 bullying cases reported in 2016, eight in 2017 and only two so far this year.
Counties Manukau DHB said all DHBs had different ways of collating data and it should be compared with caution.
Because of this, a spokesperson said only about half of its 1265 incidents could be considered disciplinary processes under employment law.
But the spokesperson said the DHB didn't dispute that bullying was evident. The DHB had set rules on acceptable behaviour and programmes to deal with bullying.
Up until last week, registered nurse Hayden Wallace was another one of those numbers – a nurse being bullied.
Wallace worked for one of the Wellington DHBs and said he has been bullied for the past year or so.
"I was getting belittled, getting made to feel incompetent," he said.
Wallace didn't say anything until about six months after he started getting bullied.
"Part of the thing is when you come into nursing is you don't know the rules, you kind of don't know what bullying is and what isn't, you don't know who to go to," he said. "It's that old mentality of 'suck it up' because you have to."
"I was at a level where I was almost in tears each shift."
Massey University Lecturer Kate Blackwood said despite numbers of bullying and harassment in hospitals rising, she wasn't sure this meant there were more.
"I don't know if there's an actual increase," she said. "I personally think that there's an increase in reporting instances.
"It's now OK to talk about it – people are saying 'we're not going to take it'."
New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) chairwoman Kate Baddock said bullying could have dreadful consequences for the victim.
"We have senior doctors bullying junior doctors, we have junior doctors bullying more junior doctors, we have any one of those who may bully medical students," she said.
"You name it; it happens at all levels."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said it took any report of bullying or harassment in the workplace very seriously.
"All workers have rights under law to protect them from bullying, and sexual harassment in the workplace and it's the responsibility of individual district health boards to provide a safe work environment."
Meanwhile, almost 30,000 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) working for district health boards across the country are currently voting on whether they'll be going on strike in July if pay equity and workload concerns are not addressed.
* District health boards outside of Auckland and Waikato could not provide Stuff with the number of bullying and harassment cases reported by their staff at the time of going to print.
- Sunday Star Times
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