‘I was suicidal’: Staff speak out against ‘endemic’ bullying culture in Victorian health sector
Staff at a south-west Victorian hospital, at the centre of a damning review into workplace culture, say they were forced to seek psychiatric treatment and considered suicide at the height of “systemic” bullying allegations.
An internal report obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws has revealed a “toxic” and “demoralising” culture of bullying and mismanagement within a South West Healthcare department, based in Warrnambool.
It identified serious issues relating to workplace structure and culture, including a lack of confidence in management to act “consistently and fairly”, and concerns accountability for patient care had been “compromised”.
One former employee, who has since obtained other work in the public health sector and has asked to remain anonymous, said they experienced “daily” bullying, prompting them to leave the organisation.
“If I knew they [employee] were going to be on for the day, my anxiety levels would peak. They fostered that culture, and ostracised anyone who didn’t fit with the culture of their friendship network,” they said.
“I just couldn’t walk into that facility. I got referred to a psychiatrist. At it’s peak, I was definitely suicidal.”
Staff allegedly ‘driven out’, ‘suffered PTSD’ from bullying
The employee said they had witnessed the “sustained” bullying of a fellow co-worker, who also later sought counselling.
“After 17 years in hospitals across Australia, in no other facility during my professional career have I noticed a culture of bullying and harassment as bad as this,” they said.
“It is a toxic, sick and cancerous problem.”
The workplace review report, undertaken in 2016 in response to allegations of “systemic and sustained” bullying, found ongoing issues within management, including personality clashes, a lack of accountability and a perceived failure to uphold agreed policy and procedures, created a culture that “struggled to support” staff.
The internal culture was described variously as ‘”toxic”, “fearful” and “punitive”, and staff reported they were made to feel inadequate or shamed if they expressed concerns.
Another former staff member told the ABC they were “ostracised” and “driven out” of the organisation after trying to report “endemic” bullying.
They said they felt their only option was to relocate, and that their time in the sector had left them with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), requiring ongoing counselling.
Privately, current and former staff said they felt “vindicated” by the report’s release.
It is understood South West Healthcare advised staff of the ABC’s intention to publish the review, and made counselling services available.
The provider said it had developed an “immediate action plan” to address the report’s recommendations, and had appointed new executive and management teams to overhaul the department’s culture.