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Trainee doctors experience bullying, finds GMC survey

More than one in ten doctors in training has experienced bullying, with almost half of the complaints directed at their trainer, a major survey from the GMC has revealed.

The regulator’s annual survey of 54,000 doctors in training in the UK also revealed that more than one in four has experienced undermining behaviour and nearly one in five has witnessed someone else being bullied.

Almost half of the complaints made by doctors in training – 44.3% – described the source of the bullying or undermining behaviour as their consultant or GP trainer.

The survey also showed that more than 2,000 doctors in training – 5.2% – had raised a concern about patient safety in 2013 – although very few concerns were raised in GP practices. Only 25 out of a total of 5,989 respondents reported patient safety concern in a GP practice setting.

On bullying, the survey showed that:

  • 13.2% said that they had been victims of bullying and harassment in their posts
  • 26.5% experienced undermining behaviour from a senior colleague
  • 19.5% had witnessed someone else being bullied in their post

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the findings showed doctors had to be better at listening to junior colleagues, especially after the Francis report into the failings at Mid Staffordhire hospital found that they were not being heard.

Commenting on the survey, he said: ‘These findings highlight the importance of listening to young doctors working on the front line of clinical care. They support what Robert Francis said – that doctors in training are invaluable eyes and ears for what is happening at the front line of patient care.’

‘They also suggest that more needs to be done to support these doctors and to build the positive supportive culture that is so essential to patient safety. The best care is always given by professional who are supported and encouraged.’

‘The survey provides us and employers with crucial information about the quality of the training environment, which is also where patients receive care and treatment. These doctors are in an ideal position to alert us to potential problems and employers will also want to reflect on these results.’

Dr Kitty Mohan, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee said: ‘It is concerning that one in ten junior doctors reported that they had suffered from bullying or harassment and that two in ten had witnessed a colleague suffering the same treatment. We must do more to combat any environment that allows bullying or harassment by encouraging NHS staff to share their concerns immediately.’

She added: ‘The BMA shares the GMC’s recommendations aimed at tackling the key patient safety challenges that were highlighted in the Francis report. To guarantee patient safety, we must establish a culture where the NHS actively listens to its workforce and acts upon any concerns raised.’

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: ‘These are very insightful reports that get further into the detail of some key issues in medical care. We know doctors can work in stressful situations, especially when vacancies exist or demand for care rises, but everyone would recognise that it is unacceptable for this to spill over into bullying.’

‘We look forward to working with the GMC to help increase staff confidence in reporting concerns, to provide guidance to assist those who are bullied, and to rigorously address bullying behaviour.’