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by Peter Urpeth
09 May 2019
Review into NHS Highland reports widespread bullying and harassment of staff

Image credit: Singapore International Mediation Institute.

Review into NHS Highland reports widespread bullying and harassment of staff

A report into allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland (NHSH) has found evidence that many staff potentially experienced “inappropriate behaviour that could be defined as bullying and harassment", and which has left a significant number with enduring mental health problems.

The Sturrock review also reported that a significant number of those it spoke to presented a picture of “dysfunctional” senior management that was “autocratic, intimidating, closed, suppressing, defensive and centralising” and fostered a culture in which “challenge was not welcome and people felt unsupported”.

And, the review found, that while senior Scottish Government officials were aware of the situation with the board and at senior leadership level “for a considerable period of time” prior to the issue becoming public in the autumn of 2017, intervention by government in the running of NHS boards is problematic and that the relationship between health boards and government in such cases should now also be reviewed.

The investigation, led by John Sturrock QC, had contact with 340 people from across the organisation and engaged directly with 282 respondents in face to face meetings and in writing.

Although, Sturrock emphasised that “NHSH is and has been for many a great place to work” and states that many staff who contributed to the review did not share a view of the organisation as having a culture of bullying, 66 per cent of respondents “wished to report experiences of what they described as bullying, in many instances significant, harmful and multi-layered, and in various parts, at all staffing levels, and in many geographic areas, disciplines and departments of NHSH”.

Responding to the report in a ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said that NHS Highland had “not always reflected” NHS Scotland values, which “can neither be acceptable nor allowed to continue”.

In a further statement, she added: “I now expect the board of NHS Highland to carefully consider this substantive report and actively engage with staff at every level to consider its conclusions and recommendations and how these can be positively applied in NHS Highland.”

Professor Boyd Robertson, interim chair of NHS Highland, who was brought in to lead the board in March 2019, said: “I am very grateful to John Sturrock QC and to everyone who contributed to the compilation of this comprehensive report and I welcome its publication.

“The report presents an ideal opportunity for everyone in NHS Highland to take stock of what more can be done to foster a positive and inclusive culture.

“Our board will give early consideration to the findings of this report and will ensure that its recommendations are taken forward.

“As chair of the board, I undertake to do whatever I can to restore confidence where it may have been lost and to build upon the many examples of best practice which I see every day.

“Together, I am confident that we can make sure that all of our people feel valued, respected and proud to be part of NHS Highland.”

Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands David Stewart said he had never before encountered “such a toxic culture of bullying” in twenty years of experience of dealing with NHS Highland as an MSP and MP.

He added: “The Sturrock Review validates the claims of those who have spoken out.

“The Health Secretary must ensure there is support all of those who have lost their jobs or experienced mental health problems as a result of their experience. They must not be forgotten.

“There is much to be done to restore the trust of staff.

“Urgent action must also be taken to ensure the recommendations of the Sturrock review are implemented in full across NHS Scotland; all staff must be given confidence that they will be safe and secure in the workplace.”

In a statement NHS Highland promised that “lessons will be learned” from the review and “all staff will be treated in a fair and respectful way”.

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