The Cost of Incivility: Bullying Culture in Argyll and Bute Health Services

Many of us in our workplace will experience what Harvard Business News brands as ‘incivility’ and just as many of us will probably be more familiar with the term ‘rudeness’ and in severe cases; ‘bullying’. However, Argyll and Bute Health Services’ relationship with the term has surpassed the point of familiarity; breaking right through into a point of association and with this, comes huge tangible costs.

The effects of a manager or co-worker being uncivil can intentionally cause a worker to decrease their effort according to a Harvard study. Now, as a waitress this may mean that somebody gets the wrong coffee, but for Health Services, that is a potential loss of life.

It was highlighted in a review carried out by QC John Sturrock into bullying and harassment in NHS Highland in 2019, that there was a significant issue within Argyll and Bute; describing its managers as ‘undermining’ and ‘intimidating’.

One member of staff in the Sturrock review describes the defensive and intimidating behaviour from staff on the front line as ‘a normal practice that we endure on a daily basis’ and explains how this destroys morale and shatters confidence.

From this, Sturrock recommended a separate, independent review into the constituency’s health service which was soon commissioned by NHS Highland in partnership with A&B HSCP, however controversy surrounds the credibility of its ‘independence’.

Despite this, the findings of this review revealed in May 2020 that 68% of the 508 respondents to its ‘Argyll & Bute HSCP Review’ survey reported experiencing bullying and harassment within its Health Services and more than 87% of those report that it occurred more than once.

The review states that this issue needs to be addressed ‘as a matter of urgency’ and emphasises the need to change the culture to one where ‘colleagues feel listened to, valued and respected.’

To do this, NHS Highland and A&B HSCP created a 100 day plan to ‘rapidly’ address the issues outlined in the survey, claiming that they have ‘advanced the pace’ and ‘resources’.

Dawn MacDonald, the Branch Secretary for Unison NHS Highland voiced concerns:

“I don’t believe that there has been much progress made since the review. As a union steward, I’m still dealing with bullying and harassment cases from within Argyll and Bute within an almost daily basis.”

Recently, the lack of progress has forced Argyll and Bute MP, Brendan O’Hara to write a letter in October to the A&B HSCP with signatures from both Dawn MacDonald and Councillor for Mid Argyll, Douglas Philand.

In the letter, Mr O’Hara states:

“…Barely a week passes when we [trade union and elected representatives] are not contacted by current or former employees of the HSCP who are being bullied or who have been bullied in the past.”

The ineffectiveness of the procedures to eradicate bullying will lead to substantial, physical and psychological issues within the NHS as a whole.

Firstly, it is estimated to cost the NHS in England at least £2.28 billion a year through sickness absence, employee turnover and decline in productivity according to the British Medical Journal.

No specific, isolated study has been carried out in Scotland as of yet but if those statistics and the results from the reviews are anything to go by, the financial cost is likely to be catastrophic. These are finances that can be put into services and treatments and it’s important to think; how would the average British tax payer feel about that?

The human cost is just as great and that goes for both patients and staff as there have been reported cases of patients losing their life due to a decrease in morale and productivity from staff resulting from incivility from managers or colleagues. The detriment is real.

Not only this but the pressures of health care greatly exceed most other jobs already; the psychological damage that incivility inflicts on workers is unimaginable. Between 2011 and 2017, more than 300 nurses in England and Wales took their own life according to statistics published by the Office for National Statistics.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing claims that nurses were constantly ignored by employers when they ‘raised concerns about their mental health’.

The cost of incivility can be demonstrated in almost all professions but none as profound and detrimental as health care and it is evident that there is a whole other epidemic brewing in the walls of Argyll and Bute’s Health Service: bullying.

If there is a zero tolerance policy on abusing staff for the public, where is the zero tolerance policy on abusing staff on the inside?

Image credit: “Hospital” by Ralf Heß is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Published by

Ailsa Gillies

23 Years Old. MSc International Journalism. BA (Hons) Film, Media and Journalism. Freelance Journalist and Content Creator for BBC Scotland's 'The Social'. Former Columnist and Music Feature Writer for The Weekender.

2 thoughts on “The Cost of Incivility: Bullying Culture in Argyll and Bute Health Services”

  1. Hello Alisa, Having just read your disturbing, upsetting but extremely thought provoking article, it points up yet again the widespread decline of how a significant number of people are unable, unwilling or just plainly ill equipped to properly navigate their way through life using any kind of moral compass. To engage an ability to plot a course of decency over detriment, inclusion rather than exclusion, parity over apartheid, a person/ group/ company / corporation/ organisation/ government body first requires to recognise and identify that there is a problem, and then apply a proper strategy with which it can be eradicated.
    The irony here is that (some of) the carers have evolved into individuals demonstrating their own particular prescription of pernicious poison – physician heal thyself!
    Unfortunately, this current epidemic of systemic bullying and cruelty extends way beyond the localised pockets of the NHS.
    I look forward Ailsa to reading more of your comment on this topic, and others in the future.
    Una Dingwall

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Una,

      Thank you so much for commenting. You’re right- this is an issue that happens, sadly, in more places than just a hospital. I think your words are incredibly powerful: ‘Decency over detriment, inclusion rather than exclusion…’, these are actions that can be applied in all areas of our lives. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying my posts and hope to keep your interest.

      Thanks again,


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