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Brow-beaten by a senior partner? Here's what you should do

Three experts advise

I am a junior partner and I am finding a senior partner’s attitude towards me and other staff dogmatic, and bordering on bullying. How should I respond?


Jenny Law – online – 330x330

Jenny Law – online – 330x330

Dr Jenny Law: Keep a positive attitude

Partnership is not to be entered into lightly – choose your partners well and try to ensure you have a good partnership agreement in place. Recognise that the terms ‘senior and junior partner’ are now outdated. You all bear the same responsibilities and are entitled to be treated with equal respect.

Resilience and a positive attitude are needed, as changing behaviour can be very difficult. Document examples of bullying behaviour and keep a confidential record outside of the practice. Save any emails and take screenshots of comments. Do not react to bullying behaviour. Walk away or use humour. Be mindful of your physical and emotional reaction.

Decide how and when to confront your partner. Prepare what you want to say, where you’ll say it and whether you wish a colleague to be present. Confine your comments to the behaviour without saying it is making you feel bad. For example, say ‘Your comment of …. is unhelpful. I’d appreciate it if you stopped.’ Stay calm and self-assured. Aim to accomplish one small objective at a time. If the situation escalates, talk to the BMA or your LMC.

If you can stand up to the bully, you may be able to improve your situation. Try to get support, but be aware your colleagues may not see things your way or might be unwilling to get involved.

Partnerships mean that you will possibly be providing services with this troublesome partner until one of you resigns or retires, with no higher management to arbitrate on disputes or take disciplinary action. It might be easier to find another job. If you want to stay and do not believe you can successfully confront your partner, can you make changes that avoid the situations that allow bullying behaviour? If your colleague is approaching retirement or considering leaving the partnership, can you tough it out?

Dr Jenny Law is medical director for Londonwide LMCs and former chair of Lambeth LMC


Pipin Singh – online – 330x330

Pipin Singh – online – 330x330

Dr Pipin Singh: Ascertain whether the behaviour is new or not

This can be an extremely tricky scenario, particularly if the behaviour is longstanding and deemed ‘normal’. Try to write specific incidents down so you have evidence. It would be useful to know if this is new behaviour. If so, it would be worth an informal discussion with your practice manager and other partners to see whether they have picked up on it.

If your suspicions are confirmed by others, you may wish to have an informal discussion with the partner. If you feel your relationship is strong, you may wish to do this outside the surgery and discuss your concerns and what you have observed. The senior partner may lack insight into their own behaviour, which may make it more difficult to approach, but if there has been a change in behaviour they may disclose an underlying cause.

If you feel another colleague has a stronger relationship and they share your concerns, they may be best placed to have the discussion. If the partnership relationships are more formal, it may need to be discussed in the surgery, and if it involves other staff, the practice manager may be best suited to do this.

If this is the partner’s ‘normal behaviour’ it will be very difficult to change the mindset of your colleagues and you may need to take advice from your LMC. The advice they give is generally confidential and may provide you with a practical approach.

Dr Pipin Singh is a GP in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear


Marika Davies – online – 330x330

Marika Davies – online – 330x330

The medicolegal view: Tell them you will take further action

Dealing with a difficult colleague is stressful and can affect both your professional and personal life. You should seek support from colleagues and take independent employment advice.

It is important to try to resolve the situation for your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues. It is also in the interest of your patients, as poor inter-professional relationships can have a detrimental effect on patient safety because staff may feel unable to raise concerns, which may put patients at risk.

Respect for others is an essential part of effective team working. The GMC expects doctors to work collaboratively with colleagues, respecting their skills and contributions. It also advises doctors to be aware of how their behaviour may influence others. ‘Doctors must encourage and support a culture in which staff can raise concerns openly and safely,’ it says.

When difficulties arise with your colleague you should emphasise the importance of achieving the best outcome for patients and attempt to negotiate a resolution. If you think your colleague is routinely putting you at risk and your attempts to give subtle feedback have not been effective, you should raise your concerns with them directly, making suggestions for improvements and framing the conversation in terms of the risk to everyone. You should emphasise that you are committed to taking action. Document your concerns.

Ultimately, if you are unable to improve the situation and you consider patients may be at risk, you should raise your concerns through the appropriate channels. The GMC says all doctors have a duty to do so if they believe patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues.

Dr Marika Davies is a medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Whilst the above responses have much merit in the support of the unfortunate junior GP,the scenario posed raises the possibility that this senior partner's behaviour may reflect that they are themselves struggling or in difficulties & in need of support.

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  • Resign your partnership and do it loudly. People will probably then tell you they are surprised you lasted so long working with such-and-such. These people are often more known (and avoided) by their colleagues than you might imagine, leaving a plethora of broken relationships in their wake. Having worked with a narcissistic senior partner myself, do yourself a favour and find another practice. You have plenty of choice. Yes, he may have problems, but we all do. If he cannot be at least civil to colleagues in this climate then give him a bigger problem; recruitment with a dodgy reputation.

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  • Working in a claustrophobic practice I tried hard to bring in the partners- particularly the senior egotistical partner - into the 21st century and actually seeing patients. This led to numerous meetings with the LMC, but nothing was resolved. This partner had attitudinal, professional and clinical issues that were raised to the GMC, NHS England and the CCG but this partner lives to practice clinically for another day. Being forced out of a practice means never working for another again.

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  • Simple. Tell him to F off! Literally hundreds of jobs out there. Stand up to a bully and he/she will inevitably wither.
    Life is too short.

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  • I think most practices are simply too stressful to work in day in day out as we have to work so closely and what one does or does not do affects the others so much esp with all the beurocrasey and inspections these days. Better to share rent and work independently if it weren't for the need to cover the core hours that they don't have in other countries which makes life less stressful.

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  • David Banner

    1- resign
    2- become a locum
    3- work as much or as little as you please
    4- enjoy life
    5- enjoy the schadenfreude of watching your erstwhile bully go bust after he wastes thousands on adverts in a doomed attempt to replace you

    Partnerships are already dead, we're just waiting for the funeral whilst the fetid corpse keeps stinking up the joint.

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  • If he is not far from retirement then may be tough it out.
    Otherwise resign.
    Just get out of their.
    Don't think you can alter him or get the best of him, resign.
    maybe go of sick with stress for a while first..., will give you time and space to consider next move.
    Maybe do some locum, get your mojo back, realise that not all practices are disfunctional but none are perfect and then don't make the same mistake again.

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  • Unfair though it is, I would encourage any partner in this situation to leave. Someone who is prepared to use bullying behaviour in the workplace cannot be trusted, and if you try to address their behaviour, either personally or through formal channels, they may well seek an opportunity to put a knife in your back.

    There is no shortage of work for GPs. Step away with your head held high. Your patients will cope without you. And don't be quick to jump into another partnership; many practices will treat a good locum with far more respect and consideration than they'll treat a salaried GP or a new partner.

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