Experiencing bullying and harassment at work can have a devastating impact on doctors, affecting their emotional and physical health, and even the way they do their jobs.
But many are reluctant to admit they are having problems – so delay seeking help until the issue is entrenched and hard to resolve.
This is why BMA Scotland has set up a bespoke service aimed at members who are suffering bullying, harassment, or any issues that would fall under the ‘respect at work’ umbrella.
The confidential advice service aims to help BMA members respond to difficulties such as damaged relationships, dysfunctional teams and a loss of respect between colleagues at an early a stage.
Since its launch at the start of January, the scheme – part of a BMA member engagement project – has already attracted calls from a number of doctors experiencing bullying, harassment or other relevant problems.
Scott Anderson, the BMA interim head of member engagement for Scotland, said the service had been set up in response to feedback at engagement events, the experience of advisers taking calls from members who were in difficulties and feedback from the BMA local negotiating committees.
Initially, he explained, the BMA had organised training sessions covering bullying, harassment and whistleblowing, but uptake was poor.
‘Some people told us they didn’t want to attend because they didn’t want to be seen to access a service like this, while some worried that they might end up in the same room as someone they perceived as bullying them,’ he said. ‘Plus, people are busy. So we decided to try a different approach.’
Doctors who suffer from issues such as this can be wary about contacting the BMA because it can be stressful repeating their experiences to different people and they want to tell their stories once to someone local who will go on to take the issue forward, he said.
So a dedicated portal was set up. ‘Within two weeks we’d already had eight new cases, and in the first three weeks there were 15 contacts,’ he said.
Issues range from people feeling pressured to undertake unattractive rota slots with greater frequency than colleagues, or being blocked from taking study leave. There can also be one-to-one situations where colleagues simply don’t get on.
Mr Anderson, who is also a BMA assistant secretary with years of experience in resolving disputes, said that the earlier people got in touch the better. ‘If people wait to contact us, then the situation can become entrenched, so it’s harder to resolve.’
People who get in touch with the service will be asked to talk through their concerns and advised about the best way to take it forward either through the BMA or through other routes, and whether it’s most sensible to raise a formal issue or not.
‘There are two types of outcome, either the relationships will be fully repaired, or we can help educate the management processes [at the employing organisation] to help resolve a situation,’ said Mr Anderson.
The advisers are specially trained to respond to doctors’ concerns and circumstances, he said.
‘Bullying has an impact on people wherever it happens – in the school playground, at home, or at work. It can cause people to lose confidence – and confidence is required for medicine.’
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