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Most perioperative nursing staff in the UK have witnessed or experienced bullying at work, a new survey has revealed.
The poll of almost 700 UK theatre practitioners found that bullying was a significant and widespread problem in operating departments and had become “almost accepted” in some teams.
“It is very concerning that in some workplaces, bullying seems to have almost become an accepted part of the perioperative culture”
The survey was carried out by the Association for Perioperative Practice (AfPP) as a follow-up to a previous one conduced at the end of 2019 exploring culture and behaviour within the field.
The membership of the AfPP accounts for around a third of theatre nurses nationally.
The charity started life as the National Association of Theatre Nurse before expanding to include other staff involved in surgical care such as healthcare assistants and operating department practitioners.
Results of the first survey showed 86% of respondents felt concerned about staff wellbeing and the effect on patient safety and indicated that bullying was a major factor at play in this.
The association launched the second survey to “dig deeper” into the issue of bullying within this workforce.
Findings published this month showed 96% of respondents had witnessed some form of bullying in the operating theatre or perioperative team.
Meanwhile, 89% of those who completed the survey stated they had been a victim of bullying themselves.
Being undermined at work came out as a significant issue affecting most staff in surgery.
The survey found 70% of respondents had witnessed colleagues being undermined while more than half (56%) had experienced it personally.
In terms of other ways bullying had manifested in these departments, more than a third (36%) of survey participants said they had felt humiliated in the operating theatre by colleagues.
Half (50%) of respondents said they had been shouted at during their shifts and 47% of participants had witnessed colleagues being sworn at.
Problems around leadership in perioperative teams were also uncovered.
The survey found 79% of participants had witnessed an abuse of power and position toward a colleague from a more senior member of staff and 63% had personally experienced this behaviour.
Overall, just over half (51%) said they believed their organisation’s culture directly promotes and enables bullying behaviours through intimidation, poor leadership and dysfunctional teams.
These problems were taking their toll on the health and mental wellbeing of staff, warned AfPP.
The most common knock-on effects reported by respondents were feeling “anxious, distressed and worthless”, while some said they were left feeling depressed and physically ill.
“It is no surprise that the negative behaviour theatre practitioners have witnessed effects their personal wellbeing”
Meanwhile, the survey also revealed issues around perioperative practice staff being able to speak up about concerns.
When asked whether they would feel able to intervene or report an incident of bullying, 56% of respondents said they would not.
In addition, 49% said they felt it would not make any difference to the behaviour if they spoke out, and 37% did not want to because the bully was more senior than they were.
A total of 17% of staff who completed the survey said they were scared of losing their job if they intervened or reported an incident of bullying.
Commenting on the findings, Dawn Stott, chief executive of AfPP, said: “It is very concerning that in some workplaces, bullying seems to have almost become an accepted part of the perioperative culture.”
The survey was carried out by AfPP as part of its Care for those who Care campaign, which is seeking to improve negative cultures within operating theatres for the good of staff and patient safety.
Ms Stott added: “We want to obtain an accurate understanding of the issues our members and the wider perioperative community may be facing so that we can campaign for change.
“By obtaining first-hand knowledge of the issues those working in the theatre environment are facing, we can further enhance our support to members and the wider perioperative community.”
Meanwhile, Louise Ashton, marketing lead at AfPP, said the findings “paint a concerning picture”.
She added: “It is no surprise that the negative behaviour theatre practitioners have witnessed either personally or towards another member of the team effects their personal wellbeing.”
Actions already taken by AfPP under the campaign is the development of a partnership with Big White Wall, an online mental health and wellbeing service.
It has also launched a series of webinars to tackle some of the concerns.