UP to 61 per cent of junior doctors working in Hunter hospitals have experienced bullying, discrimination, and harassment from a staff member in their workplace, but most are too afraid to report inappropriate behaviour, a new report has found.
The John Hunter Hospital, Calvary Mater, Maitland and Belmont hospitals all scored a “C” average in the 2018 Alliance NSW Hospital Health Check, and all received a “D” for staff well-being.
Of the 95 doctors-in-training surveyed at John Hunter Hospital, more than 47 per cent had experienced bullying and harassment, and about 52 per cent had witnessed a colleague being bullied or harassed. But almost 75 per cent feared there would be negative consequences if they reported inappropriate behaviour.
At the Calvary Mater, 61 per cent had experienced bullying, discrimination, and harassment from another staff member. Half of respondents had witnessed it happening to a colleague, and 88 per cent were concerned there would be negative repercussions if they reported the inappropriate behaviour.
The report, which surveyed 1351 doctors-in-training across NSW, found that 83 per cent of respondents at the Calvary Mater – and more than 76 per cent at the John Hunter – were worried about making a clinical error due to fatigue caused by the hours worked at the hospitals. The state average was 64 per cent.
Dr Sanjay Hettige, the co-chair of the AMA NSW Doctors In Training Committee, said they began the NSW survey in 2017 to collect some “actual data” rather than anecdotal evidence to show hospitals that training, education, well-being and overtime conditions for junior doctors were not improving.
Dr Hettige said while John Hunter Hospital had made its junior doctors more aware of how to report inappropriate behaviour, the fact the majority of them believed there would be negative repercussions if they reported those actions was a problem.
“The numbers at John Hunter Hospital show that in the past year, respondents feel things haven’t improved in regards to bullying and harassment,” he said.
“There seems to be cultural issues within the hospital that they really need to tackle to remove that thinking by doctors-in-training that there would be negative consequences if they report it.
“Really, the evidence has shown that they are not wrong in thinking that. When people do report these things, they see their careers either stalling, or not reaching the heights they wanted to, so I think it’s really something the hospital has to concentrate on.”
Dr Hettige said the John Hunter and Calvary Mater had higher rates of respondents concerned about their personal safety, and feeling as though they could make clinical errors, due to their fatigue.
“They were much higher than the state average,” he said. “This relates to overtime. Junior doctors expect to work overtime, but they are not putting in claims for it because they feel they are not going to get paid, or there are going to be negative consequences if they do. That is then affecting rostering practices, because if hospitals aren’t putting in adequate ways to claim overtime, then they don’t know how under-staffed they are and how much extra work these doctors are doing, which then impacts patient care.
“Working long hours and overtime leads to fatigue, and doctors have jobs that require them to always be sharp to make sure patients are cared for effectively.”
Professor Michael Hensley, director of medical services at John Hunter Hospital, said improving the well-being of junior doctors was something they took “extremely seriously” and they welcomed “all feedback”.
He said the NSW government allocated $4.6 million annually to funding culture-change plans for local health districts. The hospital was implementing an action plan to address the well-being of junior medical officers (JMOs), and improve leave management, rosters and education and training across the district.
“Pleasingly, most doctors at John Hunter (JHH), Calvary Mater Newcastle (CMN), Belmont and Maitland Hospitals knew who to report inappropriate behaviour to, and doctors at JHH, CMN and Maitland would recommend the hospital to other doctors-in-training,” he said.
“Overtime and rostering at John Hunter Hospital did improve from a D in 2017 to a C in 2018,” he said. “Bullying and harassment of any kind is not tolerated at Hunter New England Health. All complaints are treated seriously and confidentially.”
Professor Hensley said a lot of time was spent with junior doctors to ensure they were aware of the support available if they experienced bullying in the workplace.
“Complaints are assessed and investigated, with appropriate recommendations arising from investigation acted on promptly,” he said.
“Hunter New England Local Health District has appointed a staff member to provide support to junior medical officers who have identified and/or have evidence of unacceptable behaviours within the workplace.
“For further support, junior doctors also have the option of contacting the Employee Assistance Program – a counselling service for staff, NSW Health JMO support hotline, HR contact, JMO managers and Directors of Training.
“We work hard to reduce the amount of rostered overtime any staff member does to optimise work-life balance and ensure our staff members are well-rested and in the best position to provide quality patient care.”
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Have you experienced bullying, discrimination or harassment while working in a Hunter hospital? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.