Your readers will be aware of the media reports relating to hospitals in Sydney, where the College of Intensive Care Medicine (CICM) and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) have withdrawn or suspended accreditation of registrar training due to reports of bullying of junior doctors.
The problem is not confined to Sydney but also applies to rural NSW, specifically to the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) and Bathurst Base Hospital (BBH).
Registrars and staff specialists in the Department of Anaesthetics have been repeatedly bullied in the last couple of years.
When formal written complaints have been filed through the proper channels protesting the behaviour of managers and directors, the response has been entirely underwhelming.
At a local level, it has been claimed that no evidence of bullying has been discovered, yet none of the complainants or their supporting witnesses have ever been interviewed to establish the truth of the allegations.
Written complaints to NSW Health have similarly failed to generate any meaningful investigation of the problems.
Fair Work Australia, while sympathetic, points out that this comes under the purview of Worksafe NSW. They, in turn, were also sympathetic but state that there is no legislation available to them that they can use to sanction NSW Health or the local health district.
As a result, the systematic bullying of staff continues unabated.
There have been walkouts by ancillary staff at BBH; staff specialists have left the hospital or are on long-term sick leave as a result of the bullying they have received; registrars have been traumatised and have left the hospital, vowing never to return.
Those brave enough to file a formal complaint are given a written warning that they must not discuss their complaint with anybody, not even their spouse or partner.
Dire consequences are threatened if they reveal the subject of their complaint to a third party. They are specifically forbidden to talk to anybody who might be a material witness, or even a departmental colleague.
The similarity to the threat “this is our secret; you mustn’t tell anybody about what I’ve done to you” is inescapable and is, of itself, bullying.
It is terrifying for doctors in training or other health staff to be given such a warning - they are isolated and victimised, compounding their misery and distress.
Tragically, some see suicide as their only option as the media have informed us on too many occasions.
The Health Education and Training Institute (HETI), the body responsible for overseeing the teaching of General Practitioners during their anaesthetic training, has suspended placements at Bathurst Base Hospital indefinitely.
Anaesthetic training of intensive care registrars may also be withdrawn by the CICM for the same reasons.
Without these registrars the quality of the service delivered, already reeling from the loss of staff specialists, can only suffer further.
An in-depth and independent investigation of the bullying culture of this Health District specifically, and NSW Health generally, is long overdue.