Almost one in 10 trainees are bullied

  • Date: 27 November 2014

Doctor stress

NEARLY one in 10 trainee doctors have been bullied at work, according to a report by the General Medical Council.

A greater number reported witnessing bullying or intimidation – including belittling or humiliation and threatening or insulting behaviour – but few chose to speak out about it.

The figures were revealed in a GMC report analysing the findings of their National Training Survey 2014.

It showed eight per cent of the almost 50,000 trainees who responded to their survey had experienced bullying while 13.6 per cent had witnessed such behaviour.

However, only one per cent of survey respondents (518) mentioned bullying and undermining in the comments section. Of those who did comment, 54 per cent said the main source of bullying was a GP or consultant who they worked with. Just over 20 per cent (114) said a nurse or midwife was the source of the bullying, while 18 per cent blamed a consultant or GP who they did not work with directly.

Doctors from a black or minority ethnic background were slightly more likely to report bullying, with 1.2 per cent saying they had experienced such behaviour compared to 0.8 per cent of white people. Similarly, doctors who qualified abroad were more likely to be bullied, with 1.5 per cent of European doctors and 1.2 per cent of international graduates affected compared to 0.9 per cent of UK graduates.

The report said evidence suggests there is a reluctance to speak out about the issue, “both from fear of reprisals and from lack of faith that anything will be done.”

“Bullying and undermining are completely unacceptable and can have a big impact on the safety of care given to patients,” the report said. “They can also have a serious impact on the effectiveness of healthcare teams and departments.” The report said bullying and intimidation may make trainees “less likely to raise any concerns about patient safety or to seek help when faced with problems beyond their competence.”

In one case study, a doctor describes being accused by colleagues of not pulling her weight while she was training less-than-full-time and working on-call. She noted a change in atmosphere at work, but said the way she was treated “was much too subtle to complain about.”

The report also highlighted the impact of bullying on a doctor’s education, with those experiencing this problem every day being “much less likely to receive effective and fulfilling training.”

In a bid to tackle the issue, the GMC said it is in the process of introducing a new framework for recognising and approving trainers to ensure junior doctors have appropriate educational supervision.

The regulator has also pledged to take action to ensure reports of bullying are acted upon and not ignored, adding: “Where bullying and harassment are experienced or witnessed but not reported, this contributes to normalising this behaviour.

“Doctors in training, or medical students, who have previously witnessed nothing being done to combat bullying are less likely to report it when it happens to them.”

The GMC has pledged to work closely with deaneries and LETB training boards to find solutions to the problem. It is also planning a series of “short, targeted check visits” in the autumn to investigate how concerns around bullying and undermining are being handled, focusing on obstetrics and gynaecology and on surgery.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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