More than a third of senior doctors and dentists have been victim to bullying behaviour ranging from violence to exclusion which left some fearful of going to work, according to a survey of workers.

A major survey released by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) today reveals 37.2 per cent of senior doctors and dentists said they had been bullied. More than two-thirds, or 67.5 per cent, of survey participants had witnessed colleagues being bullied.

Behaviour described in the report, which was carried out in June with a 40.8 per cent response rate, ranged from violence, threats and intimidation through to humiliation, allegations and gossip.

Report author Dr Charlotte Chambers called the findings "shocking" and said the flow-on effects of this was likely a lower level of care being offered to patients.


"If you're being bullied by someone in your workplace environment, you're going to be feeling like you're constantly being scrutinised, and you're likely going to feel intimidated," she said.

"This is going to have an effect on the level of care patients are receiving."

Many survey participants who reported being victims of bullying referenced "pulling back" from their work in order to cope. Another 64 participants said the bullying had made them contemplate or make plans to leave the profession.

Anonymous comments from participants noted consequences of the bullying ranged from "poor sleep" due to anxiety to more extreme cases where doctors were fearful going to work.

"I feel as if I am being watched the whole time. I feel as though it doesn't matter how good my clinical work is, that my manager and [clinical director] will find a way to put a negative spin on it… I have lost confidence in myself as a doctor and a person", one worker wrote.

Of the doctors and dentists that reported being bullied, only a third said they reported what was happening - something Chambers said was symptomatic of a workplace culture issue.

"The reasons that they aren't reporting it is because they don't think they will be supported."

Chambers linked the prevalence of bullying at the senior level of the public health sector with high workplace demands.


ASMS executive director Ian Powell said that rang true with previous research highlighting burnout in the profession, and a health system "groaning under the pressure of years of neglect".

Powell said a number of DHBs were already making positive moves in taking up initiatives to address bullying and other problematic behaviours, but more needed to be done.

"Much more is required at a systemic level to provide adequate levels of workforce resourcing and to bring about meaningful culture change within hospitals."

Options suggested in the report included training, education and restorative practices as well as improving reporting systems. Complainants needed a "safe" process that wouldn't impact their career, it said.

Copies of the report had been issued to the chief executives of all district health boards as well as the new Minister of Health, David Clark.