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A fifth of UK doctors bullied at work last year, BMA survey finds

One in five doctors has been bullied or harassed at work in the past year, according to a report by the British Medical Association (BMA).

A fifth of UK doctors bullied at work last year, BMA survey finds

The report is based on survey responses from 7,887 doctors of all grades in the UK (including medical students). It shows that two in five (39%) believed there was a “problem” with bullying, harassment or undermining in their workplace. Of this group, 10% said they had often experienced such behaviour. 

Respondents cited pressure from heavy workloads as the most common cause of bullying, followed by a “top-down command and control leadership” and victims and witnesses being too afraid to speak out. 

They also identified inadequate people management training for managers and supervisors as another factor.

Anthea Mowat, chair of the BMA’s representative body, said: “Bullying in medicine can bring to mind images of a junior doctor being shouted at by a senior, or a surgeon angrily throwing instruments across the room. But the experiences we have heard […] show it can affect all kinds of doctor and medical student.”

One consultant who took part in the survey said: “Among senior doctors, the culture is still very much that you ‘suck it up’. I am middle-aged, white, highly successful – not someone who many would consider to be ‘at risk’. But I’ve suffered much distress.”

A former trainee general practitioner said: “I struggled to function. [I] felt physically sick, emotionally broken [and] I used to cry on the way to work. [I] prayed that a truck would flatten my car.”

Responding to BMA’s report, Paul Wallace, director of employment relations and reward at government agency NHS Employers, said: “It is disheartening to see that so many UK doctors suffer from bullying, undermining and harassment. This kind of behaviour in the NHS or any workplace is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work with employers to make sure doctors feel supported to speak up, if they or their colleagues face mistreatment at work.  

“Our hard-working colleagues do great work under extreme pressure, and it is understandable that it may affect their mood, but it is not fair that this pressure should be compounded by bad behaviour. It is paramount that all NHS organisations, national and local, address and reduce bullying and create a supportive environment for doctors and all staff. We are glad to see the BMA is offering solutions in this report.”

The report, Bullying and Harassment: how to address it and create a supportive and inclusive culture, features recommendations to tackle these issues in the NHS and the wider medical profession. They include the provision of tools and support to effectively challenge unprofessional behaviour, encouraging bystanders to be more active, and improve how formal complaints are handled. 



Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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