Prevalent and harmful harassment and discrimination is being committed by and against health service staff working at trusts in London, according to findings from a new study.
It found women, Black ethnic groups and migrant NHS staff were more likely to experience harassment and discrimination.
“Both nurses and healthcare assistants were more likely to experience discrimination than medical staff”
Nurses, healthcare assistants and other professions were also found to be more likely to experience discrimination than medical staff.
Those behind the study noted that reported incidents of workplace discrimination and bullying, harassment and abuse from NHS staff had steadily increased over the past five years, particularly in London.
But the researchers from King’s College London wanted to specifically look at mistreatment of staff by their colleagues, excluding cases involving patients or their families.
Their study analysed 2019 survey data from over 900 healthcare practitioners from 33 London trusts who participated in the Tackling Inequalities and Discrimination in Healthcare Services (TIDES) study.
The total included 600 nurses and 75 HCAs. Participants completed a survey designed to assess their workplace experiences, perceptions of their workplace and their health and wellbeing.
The researchers found that 20% of the sample reported having experienced discrimination and 41% reported experiencing bullying, harassment or abuse.
In addition, the study showed experiencing workplace discrimination and harassment was associated with poor mental health and physical health, long term sickness absence and low job satisfaction.
For example, experiencing either was associated with probable anxiety or depression, and experiencing harassment was also associated with moderate-to-severe somatic symptoms.
Meanwhile, witnessing such discrimination and harassment could also negatively impact on the experience of staff, said the authors in the journal BJPsych Open.
Among the nurses surveyed, 22% said they experienced workplace discrimination and 47% experienced bullying, harassment and abuse.
For HCAs, 31% reported experiencing discrimination and 45% bullying, harassment and abuse. This compares to 16% and 39% for medical staff.
The researchers said: “Our results indicate that both nurses and healthcare assistants were more likely to experience discrimination than medical staff.
“This is possibly reflective of how nurses and healthcare assistants are exposed to vertical as well as horizontal discrimination, i.e. they may experience discrimination from colleagues in higher positions of the workplace hierarchy, such as medical staff, in addition to potentially experiencing discrimination from within their own staff group.”
Lead author Dr Rebecca Rhead, from the King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), said the negative impact on the NHS was “substantial” particularly given that currently NHS staff were 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,” she added.
The authors suggested potential interventions should include structural changes to the way staff were supported and how their complaints could be addressed by leaders within the institution.
“This is all the more pertinent for those from racial and ethnic minority groups who are more vulnerable to Covid-19”
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, 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, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.
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 to assess how Covid-19 has affected racial and ethnic inequalities in the NHS with additional funding from the ESRC.
According to those behind the research, TIDES findings are being reported directly to policy makers and used to create new and innovative training and intervention resources for NHS staff.