A NSW government survey of more than 65,600 public health employees has reported a “toxic culture of bullying and harassment” that has seen more than one-in-three staff witnessing bullying in the past year, one-in-five (over 13,700 health workers) experiencing bullying behaviour, and one-in-20 being subjected to physical harm and/or sexual harassment or abuse at work.
These alarming statistics were reported in the health cluster focus of the NSW Public Service Commission’s “People Matter Employee Survey 2018”. However, according to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard the results were “better than ever” [dropping four percentage points since 2016] but showed “more needs to be done’’.

Leading doctors warned of the impact on patients, while former Mental Health Commissioner Ian Hickie said doctors and nurses would desert the public system unless the culture changed markedly. Professor Hickie believes bullying of junior training staff was “a particularly worrying trend... As soon as they finish training they’ll be out into the private system.’’

Australian Medical Association NSW president Kean-Seng Lim called the results “truly disheartening”, adding that under-resourced hospitals and overstretched staff exacerbated bullying and harassment: ‘‘When health providers are bullied or intimidated it is going to affect their capacity to provide quality care for patients.”

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed recently that bullying allegations had led to Westmead Hospital’s ICU being stripped of its training accreditation by the College of Intensive Care Medicine.

The survey found that more than 40 per cent of health staff had been bullied by an immediate or senior manager, leading to widespread lack of confidence in management’s ability to resolve grievances, lead and manage change, listen to employees or take action as a result of criticisms.  

A spokesperson for NSW Health said allegations of bullying were taken seriously, with $4.6 million allocated annually to funding “culture change plans” for Local Health Districts.