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Rise in ‘bullying and harassment’ of social workers in NHS

Unions condemn 'unacceptable' rise in social workers experiencing abuse from colleagues and management in NHS

Picture credit: Image broker/rex features
Picture credit: Image broker/rex features

One in four social workers based in the NHS has been bullied or harassed by managers or colleagues in the last year, an official survey has revealed.

Feedback from more than 800 social care staff, including over 250 social workers, in the annual NHS staff survey revealed that a quarter of social workers (25%) and social care managers (26%) had personally received abuse from managers or colleagues in 2012, up from 15% in 2011.

Some 3% of social workers said they had been physically assaulted by colleagues or managers in 2012. The previous year no social workers reported physical abuse from fellow staff members.

The majority of social workers surveyed were based in mental health trusts. Smaller numbers responded from ambulance trusts and social enterprises.

Concerns over bullying from patients also emerged. Four in ten (39%) social workers said they had been on the end of abuse from patients or relatives of patients in 2012, up from 15% in 2011. A fifth of social care managers (21%) said they had been harassed by patients or relatives, up from 12% in 2011.

Almost a third (29%) of social workers said they did not report the abuse or harassment to their organisations, while half (51%) had reported the incidents.

Helga Pile, national officer for social care at Unison, warned that many NHS services felt like “hostile places” for social workers. She said that jump in reported abuse from managers and colleagues was “shocking and unacceptable”.

“Social workers in health often end up being the scapegoat for system failings and chronic underfunding while their role is often misunderstood and disrespected,” said Pile. “It is telling that so many said they did not report the abuse – this shows a dangerously low level of trust in their organisation.”

“Social care and social work in the NHS cannot go on being treated like Cinderella – NHS leadership and management needs to recognise the importance of the work social workers do and the need to support them properly,” she added.

Social workers also raised fears over staff shortages, with over half (56%) disagreeing that their organisation had enough staff for them to do their job properly. In 2011, 48% disagreed.

The vast majority of social workers (82%) were positive about the support they received from colleagues. Over half (53%) said they would recommend their NHS trust as a place to work and 55% said they would be happy for a friend or relative to be treated by their organisation. 

The percentage of social workers who said they ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ looked forward to going to work increased from 9% in 2011 to 18% in 2012. Yet the percentage who said they ‘often’ or ‘always’ looked forward to work also rose from 43% in 2011 to 55% in 2012.

The number of social workers who ‘sometimes’ looked forward to work fell from 49% in 2011 to 27% in 2012.

is Community Care’s community editor

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