NHS Highland bullying allegations review finds hundreds faced “fear, intimidation & inappropriate behaviour”

NHS Highland whistleblowers
Pictured (L-R) Dr Alastair Todd, Dr Iain Kennedy and Dr Chris Williams. during a conference in Inverness in 2018.

Hundreds of health workers employed by or connected to NHS Highland have reported experiencing bullying, according to a review published today by a Scottish Government-appointed QC.

Led by John Sturrock QC, the review investigated ‘cultural issues related to allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland.’

The review engaged directly with 282 respondents from a broad cross-section of the staff employed by or associated with NHSH in face to face meetings and in written form.

It found that from those respondents, a majority of 66 per cent – from “all staffing levels, and in many geographic areas, disciplines and departments” – “wished to report experiences of what they described as bullying, in many instances significant, harmful and multi-layered..”

The review went on to state that a “significant majority of those with whom the review engaged have, over a number of years suffered, or are currently suffering, fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour at work.”

The Scottish Government Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced the review on 23rd November 2018, after allegations of a bullying culture within NHSH surfaced in September through a letter published in the Herald written by four senior clinicians.

Following the publication of the senior clinicians’ letter more than 120 allegations from employees, both past and present have been recorded in the Highlands.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman delivered a response to the Sturrock Review in parliament on Thursday afternoon.

In her ministerial foreword to the review – which was published on Thursday – the health secretary stated: ” It is important for me to restate that bullying and harassment in any form is fundamentally unacceptable.

“When I commissioned this review in November 2018, I chose to do so because it concerned me greatly to hear that a small group of individuals in NHS Highland felt that they had no option but to raise their concerns in public.

“For those individuals, the staff of NHS Highland and indeed the people of NHS Highland, it was essential the Scottish Government listened to those concerns, and took appropriate action.”

She went on to say: “I believe passionately in the NHS Scotland values of care and compassion, dignity and respect, openness, honesty and responsibility, quality and teamwork, and that “NHS Highland” benefits greatly from “very caring, supportive, diligent and highly skilled staff.”

The health secretary added that the review had “identified a number of significant cultural issues that have potentially contributed to a variety of situations and circumstances in which there has been behaviour that might reasonably be described as bullying..”

Addressing the Government’s planned course of action, she stated: “I will be convening a Ministerially-led Short-Life Working Group, with representation from NHS boards, staff-side, the Royal Colleges and the Professional and Regulatory bodies, to examine how we collectively take forward measures that support open and honest workplace cultures.

“In particular, I will be tasking this group to look specifically at what more we need to do to effectively deliver the behavioural and attitudinal approach to leadership and management that is at the heart of the Sturrock Review.”

NHS Highland Chief Executive Iain Stewart welcomed the publication of the review.

Iain Stewart, Chief Executive of NHS Highland said: “I welcome the publication of the report which will allow us to now look to the future. Clearly, there is a lot in the report to consider and, over the coming days, the contents will be carefully studied and an action plan drawn up.

“I can assure you all that the response will itself be comprehensive and, over the coming weeks and months, NHS Highland will take whatever actions are required to ensure that its people are valued, respected and that their voices are heard.

“Already, it seems clear that the treatment of some staff within NHS Highland in the past has not always lived up to the high standards expected and, for that, I apologise on behalf of the Board. Once I have fully read and considered the report, I will have more to say about this.”

Article by Adam Gordon