ACT News

Young doctors' survey backs claims bullying rife at Canberra hospitals

Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment of young doctors is rife in Canberra hospitals, a survey of the last year has found. The findings add weight to claims of widespread misconduct in the medical profession.

The Australian Medical Association ACT's findings have reinforced a damning report on the training culture at Canberra Hospital, which revealed long-standing bullying, harassment and sexism when it was released last year.

The results also prompted fresh calls for the territory government to be more open and transparent as it seeks to overhaul hospital training programs and improve workplace culture.

The AMA's Doctors in Training ACT survey was carried out over two weeks in November and canvassed interns, registrars and registered medical officers working in the Canberra region.

Most respondents worked at Canberra Hospital (88 per cent), followed by Calvary Hospital and a small number worked at Goulburn and Bega hospitals.

It revealed 50 per cent of junior doctors had been bullied and 4 per cent experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months.

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About 74 per cent of respondents felt they were expected to work unpaid overtime and 44 per cent said they had experienced unsafe working hours.

When asked whether they believed there were adequate structure in place to report concerns, 58 per cent of respondents said no.

The results showed that 63 per cent felt unable to raise concerns without recrimination and 17 per cent said they experienced overt threats of not being reappointed.

About 10 per cent of respondents didn't report any workplace problems.

Among the suggestions members made for how the current culture could be improved were calls for more medical interns to help reduce heavy workloads and long hours, an end to "teaching by humiliation" from senior staff, and more women in positions of authority.

Respondents also wanted a senior clinician appointed to deal with harassment and bullying claims.

AMA ACT president Elizabeth Gallagher said the survey results contained "no surprises" but they confirmed that broader concerns raised over bullying in the medical workforce last year were felt by the capital's junior doctors.

"This is a whole of profession problem, it's not just isolated to one hospital or one area.

"There's no point picking problems in isolation and it's not just a junior doctor problem, it's up the line and we know it's there."

Ms Gallagher said doctors, medical colleges and government needed to work together to effect lasting change and address the concerns with "patience, persistence and understanding".

"This is a big problem that's been going on for many years and we can't just change a culture overnight.

"I think we need to do baby steps and gradually chip away at the situation."

A KPMG report on Canberra Hospital from October uncovered claims of sexual harassment and propositions in the workplace, items thrown at staff, belittled complainants, public humiliation, and abusive phone calls, text messages and emails.

It said 76 per cent of respondents had observed bullying, discrimination and harassment, and complaints were unlikely to be resolved in timely or effective ways.

Health Minister Simon Corbell vowed to implement all seven recommendations from the report and said it reflected similar problems experienced in hospitals throughout Australia.

Mr Corbell announced a new body, known as the Clinical Culture Committee, would be created within ACT Health to implement the recommendations.

The committee, comprised of senior clinicians and managers and two junior doctors, has drawn criticism from the AMA and the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, who urged the government to commit to a more consultative approach.

The survey results prompted the AMA's Doctors in Training ACT council to write to Mr Corbell last month, asking him to rethink the committee process and consider a more open process for addressing bullying and harassment.

ACT Health director-general Nicole Feely said staff would meet with doctors groups and colleges after representatives agreed to attend a meeting this month.

"ACT Health looks forward to any positive contributions the AMA, ASMOF and the colleges can make towards improving and sustaining a positive clinical culture across ACT Health," she said.

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