Patient safety compromised by bullies


For immediate release: Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Doctors who bully colleagues are not only failing to follow the principles of good practice, but may risk compromising patient care, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

MDDUS also believes that junior doctors who experience an environment of bullying are less likely to develop and learn due to a lack of support from senior colleagues.

Last week, the GMC’s annual survey of doctors in training revealed that more than a quarter had experienced undermining behaviour - while nearly one in five doctors had witnessed someone being bullied.

This follows on from a survey in the autumn by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which found that a quarter of doctors and surgeons have been bullied or put under excessive pressure to behave in ways that they believe are not in the best interests of patient care.

MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker urges doctors who persistently undermine or criticise colleagues to consider carefully the potential impact of their behaviour. “Aside from the very obvious emotional consequences for those subjected to the bullying themselves, there may be a wider impact on patient care and patient safety,’’ says Dr Parker.

“If there is a breakdown in communication or bad atmosphere between colleagues then it is likely that open communication about patient care will be adversely affected, damaging continuity and the team approach to care that is so important.”

Doctors should always strive to maintain good relationships with colleagues based on mutual respect and trust. GMC guidance contained in Good Medical Practice says: “you must work collaboratively with colleagues, respecting their skills and contributions. You must treat colleagues fairly and with respect and must be aware of how your behaviour may influence others within and outside the team.”

This is a matter of professionalism and is key to effective team working.

“Inexperienced doctors may be particularly vulnerable in the face of aggression or rudeness and bullying behaviour can severely impact on their learning and development,” adds Dr Parker. “Trainee doctors rely on senior colleagues for support and should feel comfortable seeking their advice. They should also be able to look on their senior colleagues as positive role models.

“If they face criticism and are undermined, then this may have an adverse effect on their confidence and performance. It may also make it more difficult for them to seek advice from a senior colleague when this is needed in order to treat patients safely.

“Furthermore, an environment where there is a culture of bullying will not encourage reporting and learning from ‘near misses’ or adverse events. This learning is more likely to occur in a culture where individuals feel supported and safe to raise such matters.

“Where doctors feel bullied or undermined, they should speak to a trusted colleague and address the problem before it escalates and has a negative impact on their work. Doctors should seek help and advice early before the problem impacts on their patients.”

Individuals who are exhibiting bullying behaviour may themselves have background difficulties that have influenced their behaviour, such as stress or burnout. “They may also need support to recognise the destructive effect of their behaviour and to change the way they interact with colleagues,” says Dr Parker.

“There is no place for bullying or aggression within health care teams, and all doctors have a duty to treat their colleagues with dignity and respect.”


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to

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