Uncertainty remains over the compensation process for staff members who experienced bullying and or harassment while working for NHS Highland.
The matter was raised this week by Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron during a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee.
During the session which took place on Tuesday (19th) Mr Cameron, who is the shadow secretary for health and sport, asked: “I gather that there was an issue with whether tax was payable on compensation payments and that you wrote to HMRC about this. Have you heard back from HMRC about that issue?” To which, NHS Highland Director of Finance, David Garden replied: “We have not had a response as yet, no.”
NHS Highland confirmed in December 2020 that they had written to HMRC to seek a ruling on the tax treatment of compensation received through the Healing Process established in response to bullying and harassment cases brought to light within the organisation. This happened after the Healing Process team stated in a leaked letter that “the method and treatment of payments under the Healing Process had not received the detailed examination and discussion which could have more quickly highlighted the different perspectives on this matter.”
It read: “Whilst it was noted in the scheme that payments would be subject to applicable tax and national insurance, there were different assumptions made about what this meant and how the payments would be made, that were never explicitly discussed and brought to light.”
In May 2019, hundreds of health workers employed by, or connected to NHS Highland, were found to have reported experiencing bullying, according to a review published by the Scottish Government-appointed QC John Sturrock.
“For those people who were harmed we have a healing process, and we have 200 registrants for that at the moment, and we are working through the cohorts of people who have had their recommendations made to us through the independent panel.
“NHS Highland chair Boyd Robertson also moved to highlight the work that had been undertaken to address the issues but added that it wasn’t a quick fix.
He said: “Culture change is a long-term programme of work, is not a short-term initiative, and to really bring about a change in culture, you have to understand the difficulties that arose and what lay behind them.
“To that end, I have engaged with the whistleblowers’ group on a regular basis, I have also engaged with people who have been harmed and heard their stories first-hand, and then we had a two-day workshop in Inverness with board members present.
“The board members heard examples of the harm that had been wrought on certain individuals both first-hand and through written submissions.
He added that NHS Highland had held 23 engagement sessions in 11 locations across the Highlands, and said that it wasn’t easy for the health board to reach out to all its areas, as it covers 41 per cent of Scotland’s landmass, but it has made a concerted effort to do so.
He went on to say: “We are building up a reservoir of information of all the things that went wrong in the organisation, we have the steps that Pam has outlined and other elements, like training — which has extended to 500 of our staff, and we are addressing these issues.
“And May 2021 this year will see the anniversary of the publication of the Sturrock report and by that time we hope to have undertaken a further engagement exercise with staff to gauge their responses to the initiatives we have undertaken.
“When pressed by Mr Cameron on the current level of bullying within the health board, Ms Dudek said there were currently 23 cases open.
She said: “Of the 23 currently open, we have one that is at the early resolution, nine at the investigation stage, three are at the hearing stage, and 10 are at the appeal and review stages.
“She went on to add: “It would be difficult for us to say it’s all rosy and everything is great because I don’t think every organisation is like that.
“However, we are absolutely trying to get out those key messages to support people that work for us in the best way possible, as well as be able to have the right conversation when something is not quite right and not let it fester or get worse.”