'Toxic NHS bullying traumatised me so much I moved abroad - I couldn't eat or sleep'

Dr Hankir says he's much happier since he quit the NHS, but has 'unresolved trauma' -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir
Dr Hankir says he's much happier since he quit the NHS, but has 'unresolved trauma' -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir

A former NHS psychiatrist who says he was bullied so badly he couldn’t eat or sleep says he left the country for Canada to escape the 'toxic' workforce.

Dr Ahmed Hankir trained in Manchester and went on to work at hospitals across the country. But he claims his career soon became a nightmare – one that left him feeling like a “caged animal”.

Ahmed alleges he was bullied from his second year onwards in the NHS workforce, a problem that led to him struggling to eat, sleep and have intrusive thoughts.

Join our WhatsApp Top Stories and Breaking News group by clicking this link

The 41-year-old, who now works as a consultant psychiatrist, claims he felt like he was under “constant surveillance” while being “ganged up on” by other employees.

Ahmed hasn't named the locations he claims he was bullied at, saying that he feels the problem is endemic across the country. Approached by the Manchester Evening News, the British Medical Association told the M.E.N members in Greater Manchester a “corrosive culture of bullying” still exists within areas of the NHS.

Ahmed says after 13 years he snapped and quit the NHS for good.

But he says his experiences still haunt him to this day – leaving him suffering from flashbacks while trying to heal his “unresolved trauma”.

Ahmed still struggles with poor mental health from his experience -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir
Ahmed still struggles with poor mental health from his experience -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir

“I felt like I was under constant surveillance,” he told the Manchester Evening News. “It felt like they were always trying to trip me up.

“Instead of being supported and valued, I felt bullied and harassed. I can’t emphasize how damaging it is.

“I felt trapped and I felt like a caged animal. It became so toxic.”

Ahmed can recall one time a positive report was written about him by his bosses but a clinical supervisor “wasn’t satisfied” with what was said.

He claims the supervisor went into the emergency department where Ahmed was working at the time and approached other members of staff to “find negative things to put in the report”.

“You don’t do that,” Ahmed said. “That doesn’t happen. You don’t go searching for something, anything, scraping the barrel for something to pin on you.

“Another example I can remember was when I was meant to go to an all-day teaching session. I went in the morning, and a few hours later I got a phone call saying a member of my family had been admitted to hospital.

“I excused myself from the teaching session and my family member, thank goodness, became stable.

“That day, I was meant to be giving a talk in London, I made it to London by 8pm and everything was fine.

“A few weeks later, I got an email saying they noticed I didn’t go to the teaching session. I explained what happened and they asked me to go for a chat about it.

“I told them what happened, I left, and as I was leaving I got a call from a private number saying, ‘Look what we found on the internet,’ it was an article about me giving a talk.

“They asked me if I was lying to them and if I wasn’t telling the truth. I told them it was at 8pm; they were searching for things to incriminate me. They asked to see my train ticket.”

Ahmed says the bullying had a major impact on his mental health – leaving him wondering whether he wanted to remain in medicine altogether.

“I said, this is toxic, I’ve got to get out of here,” he added. “The moment I left the NHS, I felt like a human again.

Ahmed worked for the NHS for 13 years -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir
Ahmed worked for the NHS for 13 years -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir

“I couldn’t go to sleep, I was getting intrusive thoughts. I didn’t want to go to work.

“You might say something and someone will use it against you. The fear that won’t be able to progress with training.

“[The colleagues] collaborate, they gang up on you because they’re not just colleagues, they’re friends who have worked together for years.

“If you upset one of them, they start ganging up on you, and that’s exactly what was happening.

“I had low moods, felt depressed and had anxiety. My appetite would fluctuate, sometimes I couldn’t eat, sometimes I’d eat a lot.

“There are positive examples of working in the NHS, I worked there for 13 years. There were people who were extremely supportive towards me, but there were also people who were the complete opposite. I was counting down the days until I could finish.”

Ahmed eventually quit the NHS in September 2023, now working for the Canadian healthcare system while living in London, Ontario.

“I had to get out of the system,” he added. “I couldn’t put up with it much longer. It’s one of the reasons I left the UK and moved to Canada.”

. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about it,” he added.

Ahmed says the bullying still affects him to this day -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir
Ahmed says the bullying still affects him to this day -Credit:Dr Ahmed Hankir

“This is unresolved trauma that I’m still trying to process. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on my own having a meal with my friends and I’ll suddenly jerk because of a traumatic flashback.”

Ahmed has recently spoken of his story in his new book, Breakthrough: A Story of Hope, Resilience and Mental Health Recovery.

It tells an honest and inspiring account of his life after a mental health crisis and the ups and downs of his career.

Dr Emma Runswick, BMA deputy chair of council, said: "It's always worrying to hear about experiences of bullying in the NHS – and although we’d like to think otherwise, we hear from members in Greater Manchester and from across the country that a corrosive culture of bullying still exists within parts of the NHS.

"Bullying and harassment has wide ranging impacts, harming both doctors and patients. It isn’t doesn’t come just from individual relationships, it’s also linked to pressures in the system, poor working environments, and working cultures that accept bullying as the norm.

"We know from the BMA's ‘Bullying and harassment: how to address it and create a supportive and inclusive culture’ report that there needs to be a comprehensive and strategic approach to end bullying and harassment. We need to see action at all levels including changing individual behaviour, addressing organisational factors and dealing with system pressures."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind is unacceptable and NHS organisations have a responsibility to protect both staff and patients.

“We have put the Workforce Race Equality Standard in place and have launched the first ever NHS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Improvement Plan to tackle the racism, prejudice and discrimination by making local boards accountable for improving their workplace culture.

“Through the NHS People Promise, we are also investing in learning and better supporting staff mental health.”