Teach junior doctors how to combat bullying, say surgeons

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  07 Jun 2017

Junior doctors in foundation training should receive compulsory training on how to challenge bullying behaviour, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) has said.

As part its #LetsRemoveIt campaign against bullying and undermining, the college called on deaneries, Health Education England, and NHS Education for Scotland to introduce relevant compulsory training for foundation year doctors. This training would embed culture change, the college said, to “encourage people to challenge poor behaviour and think about their own behaviour from the very start of their career.”[1]

The campaign, launched earlier this month, urges NHS trusts and boards to introduce measures to ensure that people who bully and undermine colleagues have their training responsibilities removed.

Michael Lavelle-Jones, RCSEd president, said that the case of Ian Paterson, a breast surgeon who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for carrying out unnecessary operations, highlighted the need to tackle bullying in the workplace.[2]

“The sentencing this week of surgeon Ian Paterson has once again raised the issue of bullying and undermining in healthcare, and highlighted the terrible consequences that this behaviour can have for patients,” Lavelle-Jones said. “We must change the culture in which such a surgeon can remain unchallenged, with the team around them perhaps aware of some of the issues, but too scared to speak up.”

At the conclusion of his trial, Paterson was described by chief superintendent Mark Payne as “a controlling bully,” and a former colleague said that he had “a very aggressive, bullying sort of personality.”[3]

Lavelle-Jones said that the college had a “zero tolerance” approach to bullying, undermining, and harassment and categorically condemned these in all circumstances. “But we want to do more,” he said. “We want to change the culture of healthcare to ensure that this kind of behaviour becomes so unacceptable it can no longer go on.”

The college has called on all healthcare professionals to sign up to the principles of the #LetsRemoveIt campaign and work together to tackle bullying and undermining in the workplace. It said that trusts and boards should give staff the time to undertake ongoing training on bullying and that they should work with all healthcare specialties to improve workplace culture.


  1. Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Bullying and undermining campaign—let’s remove it. 2 Jun 2017. [Link] .
  2. Dyer C. Rogue surgeon Paterson is sentenced to 15 years after performing unnecessary operations. BMJ  2017;357:j2678. [Link]   [Link] .
  3. Mendick R, Bodkin H, Sawer P. senior reporter NHS covered up breast surgeon with “God complex” who needlessly butchered hundreds of women. Telegraph 28 Apr 2017. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers


Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: