February 19, 2007

How many silent witnesses...

A university professor killed herself after she became unable to cope with the pressures of work. An inquest on Thursday last week into the death of Diana Winstanley, of Elizabeth Crescent, found she hanged herself on July 5 2006.

The 45-year-old was taken to East Surrey Hospital after police found her body but died on the way, the hearing was told. West Sussex coroner Roger Stone heard that Miss Winstanley had spoken of her worries about her new role at Kingston University.

The inquest heard how Miss Winstanley was a professor in the School of Human Resource Management, but was struggling with the new role. Reading from the evidence, court clerk Jos Atkin said: "She found it difficult to cope in the role, especially with the technology."

Mr Stone said: "Sadly, given the circumstances and the notes left by the deceased, I have no doubt that she took her own life. I pass on my condolences to the family."

Speaking after the verdict, Professor Christine Edwards, Miss Winstanley's colleague at Kingston University and friend of more than 25 years, paid tribute to the distinguished academic. She said: "It was such a tragedy. Diana was both an excellent academic and a warm and outgoing person who cared very much about other people. "She accomplished so much in the 18 months to two years she was here and I have been trying to pick up the pieces."

I wonder how many silent witnesses there were in that university?

Aphra Behn
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Suicide don under 'huge stress' in job - 15 September 2006

Universities urged to review plans to outsource support services as inquest hears of work pressures leading up to academic's death. Tony Tysome reports. Universities were urged to bolster staff support services this week after an inquest was told that an academic committed suicide after becoming unable to cope with the pressures of her job.

Kingston University is to conduct a review of its occupational health service for staff after an inquest heard how Diana Winstanley, a professor in the university's School of Human Resource management, hanged herself in her home in July shortly after complaining to her ex-husband about heavy workloads.

The university had received no indication that Professor Winstanley, who was an expert in work-related stress, was suffering as a result of her workload. The tragic news comes as many universities are considering outsourcing confidential staff counselling services, which are seen as a vital lifeline for a growing number of academics suffering acute levels of stress.

David Berger, who chairs the Association for University and College Counselling and is head of counselling at Hull University where the service for staff is about to be outsourced, warned that outsourcing could in effect leave some staff with no support or outlet for their anxieties.

He said: "Although some staff may quite like it, others will find it virtually impossible to find the time to go to offices outside the university within normal working hours." Mr Berger said there was anecdotal evidence that both work-related stress and mental ill-health were on the rise among academic staff. The AUCC is taking steps to plot the trend.

Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, commented: "Our stress survey indicated borderline levels of psychological distress among staff. Employers must take action to reduce workloads and tackle the causes of occupational stress in the sector."

David Miles, Kingston's pro vice-chancellor for external affairs, told The Times Higher that the institution was preparing to review its staff support systems in the light of the tragedy. Professor Miles said that higher education was "an area where people are expected to deliver high standards under pressured circumstances, and this is becoming increasingly so".

"There is a sense of profound shock here over Di's death. In the preceding weeks, to most people who met her she seemed to be her usual positive self," he said. "There was no indication she was suffering a level of stress that might have contributed to her death."

Professor Miles said that the university offered confidential counselling to its staff through its occupational health service and that it had recently revised its stress management policy.

Evidence submitted to the recent inquest, held at West Sussex Coroner's Court, suggested that Professor Winstanley was struggling in her job, which involved some overseas travel and grappling with challenges involving computer technology. Professor Winstanley's former husband, Nicholas Jarrett, told the inquest that work had been the main cause of his ex-wife's anxiety shortly before her death.

Speaking to The Times Higher later, he said: "I have no doubt at all from the things that she said to me that she was under huge stress at work, and that she was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the demands that were placed on her. "I believe from what she said that she had inadequate administrative and technical support."

Christine Edwards, a colleague at Kingston and a long-standing friend of Professor Winstanley, said: "No one would have been more aware of the support available at the university than Diana. "As far as we are aware, she had not set in motion any of the procedures within the university's human resources policies or accessed any of the support services open to her."

Times Higher Education Supplement
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So since she had not accessed any of the support services available to her, and since the university offers confidential counselling to its staff, well... Kingston University did all it could really. Really? It should have never got to that point in the first place. Support and counselling are often there so universities can wash their dirty hands from any claims of negligence. Proximity to counselling does not entail in itself a possible happy resolution.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

An extract from Kingston's Dignity at Work Policy

3.3 Under the common law of contract, the University has a duty to take reasonable care of
employees and to comply with the implied terms of ‘mutual trust and confidence’. Breach
of these terms (eg. through a failure to take action against bullying and harassment) could,
depending on the circumstances, be regarded as a repudiation of the contract of
employment and could result in a claim at an employment tribunal alleging constructive
dismissal.

3.4 Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an employer has a duty “to ensure, so
far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its
employees”(s.2). Consequences of harassment and bullying (for example, stress and
depression) may be considered under this area. The Health and Safety Executive has
provided guidance which states that employers have “a legal duty to take reasonable care
to ensure health is not placed at risk through excessive and sustained levels of stress arising
from the way work is organised, the way people deal with each other at their work, or from
the day-to-day demands placed on their workforce. Stress should be treated like any other
health hazard”. Failure to comply with health and safety requirements could result in a
personal injury claim for damages; and could also result in an allegation of repudiation of
the contract of employment and a claim for constructive dismissal.

We have a rather less wonderfully worded Dignity at Work policy at my uni...

....words can be so eloquent...and so meaningless

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Posted on Sally Hunt's blog.

There is nothing I know of that causes union members to kill themselves except bullying....the lethal politics of the playground....
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I don't know whether this death was caused by bullying ...stress...or whatever.... but we do know that bullying KILLS!

We know that if silent witnesses spoke out that bullying could be halted.

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

As you can read clearly from Diana Winstanley's close friend, Christine Edwards, of all people, she would have know where to go to get help.

Could she have been the victim of foul play?

Kingston University was, and is, having significant problems with an epidemic of bullying-related stress injuries. Perhaps Diana knew something about their practice of training senior managers to engage in psychological torture? Maybe she threatened to come forward with what she knew.

After all, Kingston University officials engaged in witness intimidation against their former staff members, Lori and Howard Fredrics. And they hired a disreputable and corrupt barrister to enforce their attempts to silence Dr Fredrics. How far would they go to silence Prof Winstanley?

David said...

This is so sad. I knew Di at Uni and went to her wedding. reading this suddenly is a real shock. My sympathies to her family and all who knew her.

Dave Harrington