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Time to root out bullying in NHS Scotland

Four in 10 doctors bullied at their work

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

NHS Scotland must root out bullying, a lead doctor will warn today.

The opportunity to transform the culture in Scotland’s NHS and rebuild trust amongst staff following a major report into bullying “must not be squandered” British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland chair Lewis Morrison will say, in his first address as Scottish chair to the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast.


Dr Morrison will describe bullying and the need to make the NHS a better place to work as one of the key issues to arise during his first months in the role.

This follows the publication of the Sturrock Report* this spring into bullying at NHS Highland. The report uncovered major concerns about the culture of the organisation and its impact on staff. In addition, a BMA survey found four in 10 doctors across Scotland believe bullying is an issue in their workplace.

In response, the Scottish government has set up a short life working group which will consider the report and the actions needed across the NHS in Scotland – an opportunity to bring about change that Dr Morrison will say must be grasped.

The Sturrock report blamed stretched resources and a target driven culture as factors that Dr Morrison says has made the NHS such a “fertile ground for bullying”. Addressing these will be key, he will warn.

The speech comes as BMA Scotland reveal findings from an Freedom of Information request of health boards that show more than 560 cases involving allegations of bullying or harassment have been raised across the NHS in Scotland over the last five years. Given the Sturrock Report indicated how difficult staff find it to report instances of bullying, this figure is unlikely to provide the full picture – but instead give an indication of the scale of the impact on individuals and the NHS, the BMA has stated. 

In his speech, Dr Morrison is expected to say: “I think it is clear that bullying and harassment is the issue that has dominated the NHS in Scotland this year. The issues aren’t new but are only now coming fully to light.

“Our member survey showed that nearly four in 10 doctors had seen bullying in their workplace. That was swiftly followed by serious concerns in NHS Highland being raised – in particular by four doctors who bravely decided to go public. Cases in many other health boards emphasise the problem is NHS wide.

“We welcomed the NHS Highland review, led by John Sturrock QC, whose report makes for stark reading. We applauded the apologies that followed from our cabinet secretary Jeane Freeman and from the leadership of NHS Highland, and the setting up of a short life working group over this summer to address the problem across the NHS in Scotland.

“That group must ask why the NHS in Scotland has become such fertile ground for wholly inappropriate behaviours, and then it must address the reasons head on.

“It’s time to move beyond fact finding and apologies. The opportunity for change and rebuilding trust must not be squandered. Doctors and healthcare workers in Scotland must be able to go to work unafraid, knowing concerns will be listened to and dealt with.”


*Cultural issues related to allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland: independent review report. An independent review report by John Sturrock, QC and mediator, 9 May 2019.

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