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National action on bullying, harassment

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The AMA has commenced work with the peak advisor to the nation’s health ministers to ensure doctors and interns nationwide have access to effective procedures for complaints regarding bullying and harassment.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler has held talks with the Chair of the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, David Swan, about establishing or improving policies and processes regarding workplace bullying and harassment in each State and Territory.

Professor Owler said rules and procedures varied greatly across the country, and it was vital to ensure that all medical staff – no matter where or for whom they worked – felt confident and comfortable in reporting instances of bullying and harassment.

“We need to make sure that it is safe for people to actually come forward without fear of reprisal, without fear for their careers,” the AMA President told the National Press Club last month.

He said that for many junior doctors, their employer was the relevant Health Department, rather than a medical college or senior practitioner.

“What we need to do is make sure that the policies and procedures [regulating acceptable workplace behaviour and handling complaints] are in place. [At the moment] they vary right across the country,” he said. “[We] need to make sure that those procedures are set up right across the country, and we’re working through AHMAC to make that happen.”

A number of states are examining the work done by the NSW Ministry of Health on workplace bullying and sexual harassment, and Mr Swan said AHMAC was keen to collaborate with the medical profession on the issue.

Professor Owler applauded the work being undertaken by the Royal Australian College of Surgeons on the issue, and said a complaints process being developed by the College should be replicated across the profession.

Mr Swan said AHMAC was keen to see the outcomes of the RACS work, which he said could provide a good basis for future collaboration between states and the medical profession.

Professor Owler said that, vital though it was to ensure there were effective bullying and harassment policies and complaint procedures in place, the real issue was to stop such behaviour in the first place.

“The most important thing is that we do need to change the culture,” he said. “The vast majority of senior doctors are very supportive of junior doctors but we know that that is not always the case. So where we do see a problem…we need to speak out and make sure that we don’t allow that to happen. And as leaders, as senior doctors within the profession, the responsibility is on us to make that happen.”

Adrian Rollins