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No place for bullying in New Zealand’s health system

The Health Quality & Safety Commission is disturbed by the findings of an investigation into workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination among surgeons and trainees in New Zealand and Australia.

Professor David Watters, President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), which released the report, has issued an apology to all professionals who have suffered as a result of their workplace experience.

The commission believes there are messages for all New Zealand’s medical professionals and students.

“Bullying, discrimination and harassment are not hallmarks of good teamwork or a culture of patient safety,” says the commission’s chair, Professor Alan Merry.

Professor Merry has congratulated Professor Watters on the RACS’ clear and courageous statement.

“Many senior clinicians are great role models – including many surgeons – but clearly we all need to work harder to prevent bullying and discrimination in our health system,” says Professor Merry.

“It is important people are able to raise concerns or issues with others in the team or speak up if they see or believe something is going wrong.

“A team working well together will also be able to take greater care of the patient.”

All 20 of New Zealand’s district health boards are taking part in a programme run by the commission to improve teamwork and communication among surgical teams.

The Safe Surgery NZ programme aims to improve surgical care by encouraging teams to consistently apply evidence-based teamwork and communication practices, and safety checks with all patients.

Theatre team members involved to date say the benefits of the project include improved levels of teamwork, a more inclusive culture, greater communication and better preparation for operations.

Steps include a full team briefing before each surgical list, a safety checklist carried out by the team for each surgical procedure, an end of list debrief and other communication tools and training.

For more details on the measures being taken, visit the Commission website.

The commission has also recently carried out the first Surgical Safety Culture Survey. Results from the survey are still being reviewed and finalised before it is publicly released.

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