A nightmare that started with bullying!
Some months ago I wrote a blog, Midwifery clique: was it bullying or cultural control? There I referenced an article by Shaun Lintern “A cultural review of maternity services at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust”. Among the responses this blog generated was one from Dawn who suggested we should talk as she knew a great deal about this hospital (in Liverpool, England).
We did talk and Dawn spoke about her experience as a midwife at this hospital. Her experiences occurred prior to those noted in the article but they reflected exactly what had been described. Serious bullying, a culture that promoted the development of a midwifery clique and a management “that didn’t want to know” when complaints (and there were many) were made.
I asked Dawn to write down her story, to provide information about what went on, what happened to her specifically and what have been the consequences to her life and her career. My thinking was we could collaborate on a paper that might inform and alert fellow professionals about bullying.
Dawn provided her story and I believed her. The behaviours she experienced were those the report had noted. What was shocking was what has occurred as a result of fighting for her reputation, her career, her life.
I cannot even attempt to collaborate, I provide her story as she told it.
My problems began in 2000 when I went to work as a critical care midwife. This new role was developed to support midwives in the management of sick pregnant women which was becoming an issue as midwives were not qualified or prepared to look after these women. At the time, they were still using monitoring equipment that was outdated, dangerous and that they had no real experience of. So what… well my first experience of being bullied was one of being physically pushed and told that ‘we don’t need the likes of you here…we have done this for years!’ (by the likes of me they meant someone who was not only midwife trained but also had massive experience in anaesthetics and HDU… someone with the knowledge and understanding of what was safe and appropriate). I reported this incident to my line manager and the head of midwifery at the time who chose to do nothing!
Things carried on like that, for some time and despite raising these issues with management, I continued to be harassed, belittled and reduced to tears by my so called colleagues.
The role of advanced midwifery practitioner was introduced which would incorporate the critical care role, so I was appointed to the team. Little then did I realise that life was going to be made unbearable. Nasty comments, told to dumb myself down because it upset people who hadn’t or couldn’t see opportunities to develop patient services, training for staff, being published. Nasty notes sent to me by one individual (the lead bully) anonymous threat letters, harassed at home to come in at 11pm when I was a day off, (at the time I was married to a police officer who was on duty until 12pm. I was told to be in at 11pm or else. When I said I couldn’t as my step granddaughter was with us, (she was 2 at the time) I was threatened with the ‘or else’ scenario and told that she ‘didn’t’ give a shit’ what your husband is working and I was to make sure he was home at 12. I said that I wasn’t prepared to leave a 2 year old on her own at home and that if my husband arrested someone he could be late home…she didn’t care about that and I was ‘to make sure he didn’t arrest someone. I rang him told him what had happened and he had to take time off so I could go in.
When I did get to work they said I wasn’t needed. That is when my husband started to become violent to me and his colleagues had to remove him from the home for the first time.
My father was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease and was slipping away, his regular hospital attendance was supported by either myself or my sister. When I asked, a whole 6 weeks in advance, for a day off on a particular hospital visit day I was told no, yet another midwife whose mother was going in for a planned op was allowed that day off with 1 days’ notice. Finally I did get the time off with the threat of you owe the team one! I did not care what they wanted me to do as pay back, I just wanted to be with my dad, I would have crawled up a mountain in flip flops if I had to so I could be with him.
The bullying went on so much that despite my pleas for help to my manager no one wanted to know. I became so ill that it started to affect my physical health as well as my mental health. So every opportunity I could I would go off sick, even if I wasn’t. There were days when I would beg my husband to let me stay off work, like a frightened school child, when I did go in I would finish my shift, get to the car and thank God that I had survived another day of it. Work wasn’t safe, home wasn’t safe either.
I was falsely accused of suturing a woman incorrectly that I had not, the midwife who could have supported me knew this was wrong and yet wouldn’t support me, she was too scared to cross the accuser because of her power position. I was sent on a suturing course. I might add that this had to be paid for by myself and claimed back. My husband was livid and yet again, I saw the ugly side of him. The course was during my stint on nights, I took the night before it and the night off after it. My colleagues were aware and were asked to cover those nights. I went on the course only to be greeted that evening with a vile phone call from a colleague who was livid with me for taking the nights off, and who wouldn’t even listen. Husband became angry and telephoned the labour ward expecting to speak to this person who wasn’t even on duty, he became violent and was again removed from the home.
The next morning husband returned escorted by colleagues so he could collect his things, while he was there the phone rang. The head of midwifery wanted to know why I had taken the two nights off, why couldn’t I have worked the night, gone to the course (a two hour drive away) and then come in on nights. Now, I don’t know if it’s me that is stupid but isn’t that dangerous? Husband leaped to the phone and had very angry words, with the caller. I told her I would not be in that night because of what had happened and again I was threatened, this time told I was to work the next 7 nights or I would be marked as absent without leave. I was in no state to even brush my teeth yet alone work. I was lost, scared and alone. I was told not to go near Trust property, not to speak to anyone including my friends. The process of isolation had begun. Even the counsellor at the Trust abandoned me to protect himself.
On the advice of the staff support officer I stayed at home for 5 months. Now given that an investigation is, by the Trusts own policy, supposed to take no more than 3 months, they were way out of time. I had my pay halved and eventually sent to work in the smaller sister hospital as a recovery room nurse. I was there for over 12 months before they started pushing me to attend meetings with HR and midwifery managers. Incidentally, my union rep made herself very scarce and got others to come to some meetings. She was ambitious and wanted to be a manager so being involved in this would harm her prospects. Meeting after meeting, they called but no union rep available.
After several weeks of this, I went to a meeting with a colleague. I was told that there were unresolved issues regarding my clinical practice (these were supposed to have happened 3 years earlier!!!), which needed to be resolved; news to me. My supervisor of midwives and the lead bully had written to me or so she claimed as had a manager, so she claimed. I had never had any of these letters. They couldn’t even produce them when I asked. Instead, they threatened me again. Meeting after meeting, and every time a new allegation. I told the Local supervisory midwife about this and she didn’t want to know. They wanted me to take responsibility for these (failures), I had never been made aware of any of these, been suspended, anything. They wanted me to sign a document relating to supervised practice. I was on the edge, so agreed. At the final meeting yet another allegation (interestingly this was thrown out along with another by the NMC*). This was the final straw and I would not sign.
During this time I had completed my masters (degree), to the annoyance of managers and completed a management qualification at night school (I had been on a waiting list to do a similar, lower level course, of course this was blocked after complaining).
At yet another meeting to discuss the way forward, the head of midwifery was ‘angry’ to realise I had done this. I was told that I had to have a particular supervisor of midwives who incidentally was friend of the lead bully. This is against supervision policy, but they didn’t care. I was told that if I wanted a different supervisor they – my colleagues, would have to be told of the issues! I was also told that I would be downgraded as I didn’t possess a masters that was now essential for my continuation in my substantive post, hence the anger when I told them I had not only completed an MSc but also graduated. I asked for this in writing as the meeting notes, which confirmed this. What they didn’t realise is that at the same time they had advertised my post with no mention of a masters being essential. When faced with the job ad they tried to take it from me. They did return it but only under duress. My feeling is that they didn’t want me back and if I did return I would be made an example of. One of the three anonymous letters even told me that…Words I remember very clearly- ‘fuck of bitch we don’t want you back, just wait”.
Having been warned by several midwives that it was not safe to return I chose, finally not to. It would have killed me in so many senses of the word. This decision led to a referral being made to the NMC for the unresolved, never investigated issues.
So what were they going to do with me? Well HR said they would help me find another post in the hospital. They (the clique) and management tried every way they could to block this even trying to deny the existence of one manager’s phone extension. Laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Yes, I went to the NMC, I had to sell my home to self-fund it. I received a caution for not countersigning an entry from a midwife and yes they questioned the suturing incident but I know in my heart and will always know I did nothing massively wrong. The NMC barrister even said the case should never have been heard and that they failed to investigate the case properly. What he didn’t want me to say is that I had been bullied, yet another attempt to silence victims. If I mentioned being bullied he would come down hard on me.
The Local Supervisory authority, years later and after me pushing them, admitted they failed me; the Trust won’t acknowledge any wrong doing even though they know the truth.
I was a happy go lucky hard working person who thought nothing of going the extra mile. This experience has destroyed me. I have severe depression, struggle to cope with it every day, and yes people say move on, but how when everything you worked for is taken away. Maybe I should have kept quiet and just left, yes I’ve been told “it’s all my own fault” and “you did the right thing” but it has stolen my life. Those who knew and did nothing are as culpable as the bullies themselves…for me it’s about doing what is right not what is easy. I have no home and no job. Don’t laugh but I look at houses for sale on the internet and dream that I will have a home of my own again, but deep down I know this is only to be a dream. I cry every day that someone will give me justice. I hide my pain every day. In my darkest moments I have prayed that I won’t wake up. My MP (who did ask the Trust to provide my documentation but that letter was ignored) the CQC*, the NMC, don’t want to help victims. We are disposable, replaceable yet we are human and stood up for what was right. We have the biggest hearts that are turned cold by the behaviour of others.
Why did this happen, simple, the lead bully, and I shall call her that, was surrounded by friends who were too scared to cross her. She used her power to manipulate and control. She didn’t want anyone with a brain or vision to exist. The Trust knew she was a bully, and only acted when a letter was leaked to the press. They are as guilty as her.
*Nursing and Midwifery Council UK* Care Quality Commission; role is to monitor, inspect and regulate services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety.
There are some fabulous webinar recordings by Pam Savage regarding Nurses and the Law on the Nurses for Nurses Network . The Nurses for Nurses Network provides good information and CPD on an array of nursing topics in a range of easy learning ways including webinars and quizzes on the latest information that Nurses need to know – remember the Nurses for Nurses Network was created by Australian Nurses for Nurses ! www.nursesfornurses.com.au