Bullying and undermining are too common in medical training, according to the General Medical Council (GMC). A survey of the 50,000 doctors in training found nearly one in ten reporting that they had been bullied, while nearly one in seven said they had witnessed it in the workplace.
While the survey shows that systems are generally working well, it suggests there are still areas that need to be improved. The GMC argues that bullying and undermining can affect the safety of patients as it can make doctors in training more reluctant to report concerns. Examples of bullying and undermining include belittling or humiliation and threatening or insulting behaviour.
One doctor in training who responded to the survey said: “If you get on the wrong side of a consultant it may have a big impact on your future career. I’ve experienced this myself and it definitely makes me think twice about reporting instances of bullying, either locally or to the GMC.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “There is a need to create a culture where bullying of any kind is simply not tolerated. Apart from the damage it can do to individual self-confidence, it is likely to make these doctors much more reluctant to raise concerns. They need to feel able to raise the alarm and know that they will be listened to and action taken.
“We are working with those responsible for postgraduate education at local level to respond to this feedback from doctors in training. We need to develop a supportive culture that actively encourages doctors in training to feel confident in raising concerns at an earlier stage.
“This issue again shows how the national training survey is a vital tool to help all of us in this area to understand the experience of doctors in training, not just around their own medical education, but also around issues of patient safety. They are our eyes and ears on the clinical front line, and we all need to listen to what they say.”
As a result of the concerns raised in the survey, the GMC is undertaking a series of checks in obstetrics and gynaecology and surgical departments across the UK. The findings will be published early in 2015.
The GMC has also consulted on what action it should take against doctors who bully or undermine others. The consultation sought views on what sanctions should be imposed on doctors who are found to have bullied colleagues and put patients at risk or discriminated against others in both their professional or personal life. The results of the consultation will be published in February next year.
Reports from the national training survey on patient safety and bullying and undermining can be found at www.gmc-uk.org/education/25936.asp