Almost 3,000 NHS staff took part in the study which was published in the online journal BMJ Open.
It found that over 40% had witnessed other staff being bullied at work, at least now and then, in the preceding six months, with one in 20 witnessing it weekly or daily. In addition, only between 2.7% and 14% of staff said they reported bullying to someone in authority, with a disbelief it would help and a fear of being labelled a trouble-maker among the reasons for not coming forward.
The most commonly reported behaviours were unmanageable workloads; withholding key information; public humiliation; being deliberately ignored; and being shouted at or the target of an angry outburst.
Over two thirds of respondents (69%) had experienced at least one such behaviour over the past six months, while 18% said they had had to endure this on a daily or weekly basis.
Professor Jan Illing, of the Centre for Medical Education Research at Durham University, who headed the study, said other research has already shown that bullying was more prevalent in hierarchical organisations like the NHS.
“Trusts should look at policies and consider what they can do to reduce workplace bullying.
“There needs to be a commitment from the Chief Executive and once that is in place, things are likely to happen.”
Health Minister, Dr Dan Poulter, commented:
“Bullying is always unacceptable and all staff have the right to work free from bullying and harassment. Hospitals must look at their own figures and take action if there are any issues in their organisation.
“Openness, transparency and supporting staff to speak up when they have concerns is key to protecting patients and achieving high quality care.”