Tears of Bullying in Health Services

Don Kane MB BS (UQ) FRACP FCCP
Chairman, Health Professionals Australia Reform Association

A drift away from ethical and professional behaviour in all professions has occurred. Collaborative, and cooperative competition has been displaced. Focus has shifted from satisfaction and pride in work to personal enmity, jealousy and financial reward. Collaborative and cooperative competition is replaced when colleagues lodge vexatious complaints against individuals who have superior skills. A major problem with bullying in the health professions is that the bullies are a group with high intellect and intelligence. They often have a network that stretches into high places of influence making it difficult to combat them.

Poor knowledge of workplace culture and requirements is problematic, particularly in the upper echelons of health departments. They have a poor knowledge of clinical services needs.

Authorities that regulate health professionals do allow bullying by misuse of the notification requirements. Failure to provide due process, natural justice and presumption of innocence is almost standard practice. Short timelines for responses compound the problem. No effort is made to assess the veracity of claims lodged. Statutory immunity is afforded officers of these bodies. They are not accountable for their actions.

Ethics and professional behaviour were priority concerns for the Colleges and the Australian Medical Association. It is not the case now. This is a disadvantage to the majority of members who conduct themselves with dignity.

Mutual organisations administered by clinicians provided medical indemnity insurance for many years for the benefit of fellow clinicians with the focus on the welfare of members and not the income of the organisation before the business was demutualised and taken over by commercial indemnity insurance organisations. Now the focus appears to be on the financial situation of the medical indemnity provider organisations.

Apart from the detrimental effects on career, financial circumstances, marriage and family life with breakdown in relationships, there is great stress imposed on the victims. Mental illness manifested by anxiety and frequently depression is very common. Suicides resulting from the actions taken against a number of health professionals have occurred.

The recent Senate inquiry shone light on some issues but offered no solutions. Another inquiry has been scheduled but is unlikely to do better. A dysfunctional body like AHPRA that has shown no insight into its malfunctioning is incapable of rectifying the problem. It will require a judicial inquiry, even a Royal Commission, to identify and offer recommendation to fix.