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  • 28 May 2019
  • 4 min read

Health board apologises to staff over bullying

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A review found a large number of staff at NHS Highland have experienced inappropriate behaviour at work.

NHS Highland has apologised “unreservedly” to staff who were not treated properly after a review of bullying allegations suggested hundreds of workers experienced inappropriate behaviour.

The independent investigation was commissioned by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman in November after concerns were raised by a group of senior clinicians at the health board.

The report by John Sturrock QC, published earlier this month, found that a “significant majority” of the 340 people who engaged with the review said they are currently experiencing, or have done in the past, fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour at work.

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It also found many people feel unable to speak out about the issue and believe there is no safe mechanism for them to do so.

Ms Freeman told a Holyrood committee having the “safer route” of the proposed independent national whistleblowing officer in post at the time could have been used by the four consultants to raise their concerns.

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"In the coming months the Health Board will focus on healing, reconciliation and building a positive culture based upon care and compassion, and dignity and respect for everyone" - Boyd Robertson, NHS Highland

In a statement read to the NHS Highland board meeting on Tuesday, Boyd Robertson, interim chairman of the health board, said it fully accepts the recommendations in the report and will ensure that the issues it raises are addressed.

He said: “As a Board we would like to express our gratitude to John Sturrock and to all of those who contributed to the report. The report finds that bullying or inappropriate behaviour has occurred within NHS Highland and we apologise unreservedly to those members of staff who have not been treated according to the high standards we expect.

“The board acknowledges that there were shortcomings in the way it dealt with the issues raised and will reflect upon how it must improve.”

He added: “The Board will provide assurance and take full responsibility for ensuring that the issues raised in the report are addressed and that we will lead by the same constructive, respectful and compassionate approach we expect others to follow.

“In the coming months, the Health Board will focus on healing, reconciliation and building a positive culture based upon care and compassion, and dignity and respect for everyone.

“Values such as openness, honesty and responsibility will underpin an approach which will also deliver quality care and team-working.”

In its recommendations, the report said a strategic vision is needed for boards with a programme of training for staff and managers.

It also called for effective facilities to be introduced to allow those wishing to speak out to do so. Mr Boyd said that the report is currently being carefully considered and an initial draft action plan prepared.

He said that the board will consult with a wide range of staff groups and external stakeholders to ensure that, in taking action, it represents as broad a spectrum of views as possible.

Ms Freeman told Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee the national whistleblowing officer “provides that safer route” to raise concerns.

She added: “The Sturrock report is actually about a great deal more than whistleblowing – it is about a workplace culture that was operating poorly to the extent the four individuals felt compelled to raise their concerns publicly.

“Had this been in place then, it may well have been that they would have raised that through this office.”

The prospective new national whistleblowing officer, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Rosemary Agnew, said having been in place probably could have made a difference in the NHS Highland situation, giving the opportunity to handle it differently.

She said: “Where it would have strengthened and perhaps averted things is it would have come out into the open a lot sooner.”

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