The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Third of doctors say bullying is a problem in the NHS

Bullying causes lasting harm to doctors’ lives/careers, says report

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 01 November 2018

More than a third (39%) of doctors believe there is a problem with bullying and harassment at their work in the UK, according to a report* from the British Medical Association (BMA) published today.

The report details a two-year study by the BMA looking at bullying, why it happens and what can be done to tackle it.

The BMA began a bullying and harassment project in 2017, driven by its members. As part of the project, the BMA reviewed the existing evidence on workplace bullying and harassment in the NHS and the medical profession and asked doctors and medical students to share their experiences and views, which are reflected in the new report.

The report found that bullying and harassment were common in the workplace and that many doctors and other NHS staff said their personal and working lives were affected by it.

Result showed that:

  • 39% of UK doctors said they believed there was a problem with bullying, undermining or harassment at work
  • 65% of UK doctors felt pressure of work was the main reason for bullying taking place
  • 58% of UK doctors felt it was difficult to challenge because behaviour comes from the top.
The problems were not just an issue of individual relationships, but also a reflection of pressures in the system, poor working environments, top-down ‘command and control’ leadership, and a culture that accepted such behaviour as normal, said the authors.

Doctors who had been bullied said it had destroyed their confidence and affected them personally with some people saying it caused serious and lasting harm to their lives.

In the report, a former (unnamed) GP trainee is quoted as saying: “I struggled to function, felt physically sick, emotionally broken. I used to cry on the way to work. Prayed that a truck would flatten my car.”

Another GP trainee quoted says: “The daily beratings increased in severity to the point where I’d break down and cry. He asked me three times: ‘Do you think I am bullying you?’ I felt pressured, I said, no.’

The report authors said that formal reporting of bullying or harassment could be daunting because of concerns that going on the record might make matters worse.

Advertising a named contact that people could have an initial conversation with informally and in confidence was, therefore, important especially for those who could feel isolated and lack peer support in a workplace, such as GP trainees, SAS doctors, or medical students on placements.

Dr Anthea Mowat, BMA representative body chair and BMA bullying and harassment project sponsor, said: “The experiences we have heard through the BMA’s bullying and harassment project show it can affect all kinds of doctor and medical student. We know that other staff in the NHS are affected too – one in four according to the NHS staff surveys.

“As well as damaging staff, bullying also impacts on patients and the consequences for patient care and safety are serious. In workplaces where bullying is common, communication and teamwork suffer, and staff are afraid to raise legitimate concerns about patient care or safety.”

Paul Wallace, director of employment relations and reward at 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.”

*Bullying and harassment: how to address it and create a supportive and inclusive culture. A report prepared by the BMA (November 2018).

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470