From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Rudeness at work causes mistakes

Threatens patient safety

Rudeness in the workplace causes people to make mistakes, and even witnessing rudeness makes mistakes more likely, a psychologist has warned.

Writing in to-day's British Medical Journal, Professor Rhona Flin from the University of Aberdeen says the link between rudeness and making mistakes is a particular concern in healthcare settings. It may even pose a threat to patient safety and quality of care.

She said: “In surgical environments, all staff require high levels of attention and memory for task execution …. If incivility does occur in operating theatres and affects workers’ ability to perform tasks, the risks for surgical patients - whose treatment depends on particularly high levels of mental concentration and flawless task execution – could increase.”

The professor also said that rudeness at work is not uncommon.

In a survey of 391 NHS operating theatre staff, 66 per cent of respondents said they had “received aggressive behaviour” from nurses and 53 per cent from surgeons during the previous six months.

Disagreements between surgeons and theatre nurses were reported by 63 per cent of respondents, and disagreements between theatre nurses and ward nurses were reported by 58 per cent.

The main bone of contention was the management of the operating list. Scrub nurses also indicated they sometimes had to tolerate surgeons’ bad temper and tantrums.

Professor Finn concluded: “People concerned with patient safety should note that civility between workers may have more benefits than just a harmonious atmosphere.”

This article was published on Tue 6 July 2010