Dr Mary McCarthy: No place for bullying in any workplace

The findings of an independent report by Dame Laura Cox made for uncomfortable reading as it laid bare the scale of bullying and harassment in Westminster. Unsurprisingly, women were often the victims.

This sets a very worrying example; if our own government is guilty of fostering such a toxic working culture how can other organisations be held to account on this?

The government is not alone. Bullying and harassment is a significant issue in the NHS and one which we need to work hard to eradicate.

Last year, the BMA launched a project on how to address bullying and harassment in the workplace. This was in response to findings that revealed that around one in five doctors in the NHS say they had been bullied or harassed by managers or other staff.

Very often incidents will go unreported as staff believe nothing will happen or they are too afraid to raise concerns and feel the adequate support is not in place to deal with them effectively.

Working in medicine comes with a particular level of intensity, both in training and studying. This type of high-pressure environment can breed a certain type of behaviour that all too often becomes the norm.

While ideally there would be a magic wand that would suddenly conjure up more NHS staff enough doctors and cut people’s workloads, this is certainly not happening anytime soon.

We must therefore look at ways in which we can make positive changes working with what we have.


Bullying and harassment can take many forms from physical or verbal abuse down to more subtle and sustained levels of criticism, scrutiny and micro management which is more difficult to pinpoint but can be equally harmful.

It is very often the case that certain groups of staff are more vulnerable to bullying and harassment because of their protected characteristics. Disabled, LGBT, black and ethnic minority doctors and a higher proportion of women to men have reported more incidences.

Bullying is always a lose-lose situation. It is harmful for both doctors and patients and its effects are wide-ranging.

Indeed, research shows negative impacts on patient care and safety. For example, a trainee who is bullied by a senior colleague is likely to avoid seeking help or clarification from them to avoid being rebuked and this may likely compromise patient safety.

Employee engagement is dependent on there being a positive working environment in which staff feel valued and respected.

Those who are bullied may develop mental health problems, their work suffers, and it becomes a cycle of destruction. People at work in a stressful environment need to be supported.

As part of the BMA’s programme to raise awareness of workplace bullying and harassment within the NHS, we want to improve the support that doctors receive.

We provide a number of services to help and advise doctors who are experiencing bullying at work but also to those who may have witnessed examples of bullying and wish to raise concerns. There is of course much more that can and needs to be done – but this is a good place to start.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and feel safe in their place of work, that is the bottom line.

* Dr Mary McCarthy is chair of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA. She has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years.

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