On the ground: fractured relations

by Neil Hallows

A consultant, on sick leave after feeling she had been bullied, needed practical and emotional support

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 26 October 2022
moral injury

A consultant moved to a new hospital site and had a poor relationship with her clinical director. Everything that could have been a problem – the new location, her job plan, and the relationship in general – was a problem. It was fractious from the beginning.

The consultant felt she was being bullied, and so took sick leave and did not feel able to return to work until the various issues were resolved. Just before going on leave, she had asked the BMA for support.

Sometimes these columns can seem as black and white as the words on a contract – and enforcing that contract makes everything better. Work that hasn’t been paid, for example, or conditions that have not been honoured. This case was more subtle, and more about the need to provide continuing practical and emotional support.

Being on sick leave, the doctor was in a difficult situation as it is difficult to pursue a formal process practically, such as a grievance, and she felt unable to return to the working environment. Informal discussions with more senior management were not providing significant help.

There was no miracle solution here, but the BMA employment adviser attended meetings and discussions and helped all parties remain calm and focused. He made introductions to senior management, about which the member was initially nervous, but enabled her to have alternative forms of dialogue.

She had a number of meetings of her own with senior colleagues, and the adviser gave her help in preparing for them, discussing issues to cover and how to address them appropriately and succinctly. The adviser’s job is to represent their member, but in doing so, they can be drawn into a broader role – something more akin to a mediator.

Managers, including medical ones, can suffer from a lack of training and support, and often their knee-jerk hostility comes from the pressure they are themselves under, or a lack of full understanding of terms and conditions. Members sometimes benefit from advice on the manner in which they pursue particular arguments, in case they push managers in the opposite direction. It’s not (or not often) simply about the good guys vanquishing the bad guys.

None of this is possible without building up strong personal relationships and an ability to ‘read’ people, which the adviser displayed in abundance. This is a column about ‘wins’ achieved on behalf of members and this case reminds us that it’s a win if the member sees it as a win, and if it’s the best possible outcome in the circumstances.

Here, the member did not return in triumph to her old department, all the problems resolved. Instead, she found another job elsewhere, which has given her the belief that her career is back on track. She praised the adviser’s ‘outstanding professional expertise’, kindness and availability, and thanked him for his support during a challenging time.


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