Bullying in the NHS is a “scandal” which is hitting patient care, the head of a doctors’ organisation has said.
BMA Scotland chairman Lewis Morrison said recent high-profile cases and the organisation’s survey result that 38% of doctors find bullying and harassment an issue in their workplace indicates the problem is “still widespread”.
An independent review is being held into one health board after senior clinicians raised concerns over a “long-standing bullying culture” they alleged is damaging patient care.
Four NHS Highland doctors went public with their fears in a letter to The Herald newspaper, accusing bosses of suppressing criticism and creating a “culture of fear and intimidation” lasting more than a decade, claims the board’s medical director Dr Rod Harvey said he did “not recognise”.
In his Christmas and New Year message for doctors, Dr Morrison said: “Doctors have told us that bullying and harassment is still widespread and recent high-profile cases only serve to underline those concerns.
“Every single case will have a serious impact on the doctor concerned. It threatens to undermine them and prevent them from focusing on patients.
“In any workplace, these levels of bullying would be extremely worrying.
“In the health service, where what we do can make the difference between life and death, it is nothing less than a scandal.
“Ultimately, the level of bullying and harassment we currently see in Scotland’s NHS can only have serious negative repercussions for the care it provides.”
He added: “There should never be any excuse made for bullying and harassment, it is always totally unacceptable.
“It is also worth reflecting on the view of many doctors that the high-pressure environment, focused on targets that are often simply unattainable within current resources, is having a negative impact on workplace cultures – at every level.”
He said greater efforts to ensure doctors can speak about bullying without fearing for their careers were needed.
He added: “Transforming this working environment and building a more positive and supportive culture across our NHS must be a priority for all those involved in running our health service in 2019.”
Dr Morrison said BMA Scotland will carry out work in 2019 to understand doctors’ experience of bullying and harassment, examine causes and put forward solutions.
A summit of key stakeholders will take place in early summer on making Scotland’s NHS a more positive place to work.
Dr Morrison added: “We will be hoping for a similar commitment, both from the government and across NHS management – and welcome the positive indications they have already made on this agenda.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The welfare of staff in our NHS is paramount and everything possible must be done to eradicate bullying in the workplace.
“This type of behaviour is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances and we expect health boards to ensure all reported incidences are fully investigated.
“As the health secretary has made very clear, if there is anyone in our health service who is feeling bullied or harassed we take that very seriously, and we want those staff to come forward, safe in the knowledge they will be heard.”