Doctors’ leaders created ‘toxic’ workplace, says damning report

British Medical Association members and staff endured crude comments and were frozen out of meetings

Senior leaders in the UK’s largest medical union failed to stop discrimination, bullying and harassment towards staff and doctors, according to a scathing new report. 

An independent report into the British Medical Association (BMA) found that a large number of women, which included doctors and employees of the organisation, reported feeling “undervalued, ignored and patronised” because of their gender, and warned of a “toxic” work environment.

It added that while there were some “headline grabbing” instances of sexual harassment, it was equally concerned by the “genuine complaints of the persistent undermining and undervaluing of some women doctors and staff”.

The revelations will cause concern across the medical profession, as the BMA represents doctors and medical students and sets the parameters of professional practice in the NHS. The report found bullying was taking place on committees and official BMA business, as well as highlighting a broader culture of bullying affecting doctors who act as BMA representatives.

The report is the result of an investigation led by barrister Daphne Romney QC, and was commissioned by the BMA after industry publication GPonline reported that senior women within the union’s GP committee raised concerns over sexual harassment, crude and sexist comments and being frozen out of meetings.

Two senior BMA members also alleged that the union’s disciplinary systems were in place to “protect establishment hierarchies”.

In the report, Romney blamed an “‘old boys’ club’ culture… that lingers on without proper challenge, which treats women as of less importance and ability”.

She said there had been a failure among senior leaders to call out bad behaviour, and warned that the treatment of some BMA staff was “unacceptable”.

“The word that was routinely used to describe their workplace to me was ‘toxic’,” said Romney, who added that she had spoken to more than one member of staff who said they were planning to leave their role because they were so unhappy.

The recommendations in the report included a reminder that “staff are part of the team and should be treated with respect”, and that shouting was “never acceptable in the workplace”. 

It also said that while it was principally the duty of each individual doctor to behave appropriately, “everyone in the BMA should call out bad behaviour when they see it”.

In response to the report’s findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA, said he was “deeply sorry to those who have been affected”.

“The report makes for difficult reading. I am determined that we learn from it and, most importantly, that we make the necessary changes to ensure we become a truly inclusive association by implementing the recommendations,” he said.

The report is not the first time that issues of harassment or bullying have been flagged in the medical profession. A survey earlier this year found that, across the wider NHS, more than a quarter of staff had experienced bullying by a colleague.

The government has said it would ban the use of gagging orders for whistleblowers in the NHS for whistleblowers, arguing that the use of non-disclosure agreements could silence healthcare workers who raise safety concerns or make complaints of harassment or workplace bullying.