NST Leader: Dr Bully

IN May last year, this newspaper posed a question: When will bullying of doctors end? A year has passed, "Dr Bully" refuses to disappear. What's up with the Health Ministry? Evidence after evidence is piling up, but all we get is more inaction than right action.

Now the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), following a survey it conducted from Sept 15 to Oct 1, has come out loudly with its "Hear ye, hear ye" cry. Its one-sentence conclusion is: Bullying of doctors is pervasive. Two out of five doctors throughout the country complained of being victims of Dr Bully.

To the MMA, this might be the tip of the iceberg. Many victims suffer in silence. Some just quit. MMA's survey results should shock the nation. No, it's not because of the fact that 40 per cent of doctors are being bullied by their superiors, but because the despicable behaviour is an old complaint.

Despite promises of action by the ministry, bullying persists, nay, it is becoming worse.

A January survey by CodeBlue, a healthcare news portal, drives home the point. Of the 1,652 public healthcare workers surveyed nationwide, 41 per cent said they were bullied at their workplace, while six per cent said they were victims of sexual harassment.

Then, between CodeBlue and MMA surveys, the cry for help got louder at Sungai Buloh Hospital. Several house officers, allegedly burdened by daily humiliation at the hands of medical officers, felt compelled to write to CodeBlue.

These new entrants' allegations read like a "Bullies' Guide To Inflicting Humiliation": misogynistic slurs, sexual comments, humiliation in public, denial of meal breaks and annual leave.

The list goes on, but the point was made. CodeBlue said it shared the complaints with the hospital's top management and the health minister, who promised the news portal "an immediate investigation". That was a cry for help from one public hospital in March. Others followed.

There is something seriously wrong with issues management in the ministry. Helplines such as MyHelp and the Healthcare Work Culture Improvement Task Force aren't working. If they were, the doctors would not be writing to CodeBlue.

There is just no trust in such mechanisms. This is no dreamed-up charge. Public mechanisms such as these have breached the people's trust before. Some serious introspection is needed by the ministry to restore people's trust.

For some strange reason — perhaps it's our colonial heritage — we are fond of task forces and committees to manage issues. These won't solve problems. Here is what will. The ministry must go back to basics and hold its officers accountable.

In the case of bullying — the issue at hand — it is the responsibility of the director of the hospital. Put zero bullying as one of his key performance indicators and hold him accountable for it. Only then will the director take his responsibility for zero bullying seriously and make all his department heads similarly accountable. We dare say this is not the case now.

So long as such a fundamental change in managing the issue of bullying is not adopted, it will only become worse. The ministry knows this, but we will remind it anyway: the raison d'etre of hospitals is to care for patients. Hospitals where bullying of doctors thrive just can't fulfil this reason for being.

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