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Bullying still an issue at NHS Highland

By Scott Maclennan

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Bullying is still rife at NHS Highland more than a year after a damning report into the issue.

News that some staff are still being bullied came from the health board’s own external culture adviser.

Emma Pickard blamed managers who do not see it as important or part of their job to crack down on workplace bullies.

She also said many managers do not have the skills to intervene and bring bullying to an end.

The news was met with anger and disbelief, coming as it does nearly two years after the Scottish Government commissioned the Sturrock report.

QC John Sturrock investigated a culture of bullying at NHS Highland which was revealed by a group of whistle-blowing medics.

The report also reveals that, for the first time, proper analysis will be conducted to find out how the bullying culture began.

Regional Tory MSP Edward Mountain, who originally demanded a probe into bullying, vowed to raise it urgently with Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman.

Ms Pickard said: “The NHS Highland Executive Directors Group met on August 27 to review concerns and understand the situation and what action the organisation could take to address this.

“The key issues raised involved situations where managers are not consistently addressing colleague concerns about behaviours and how they are feeling, when raised at an early stage.

“It is felt that the lack of effective action can be due to managers not seeing it as their role or not seeing it as important, or in some cases not having the skills to do so effectively.

“This means that issues that could be quickly resolved escalate into complex cases and relationship breakdowns.”

Mr Mountain said: “I am disappointed that 16 months on from the Sturrock report that there are still ongoing and unaddressed bullying concerns from staff within NHS Highland.

“True leaders look after and nurture those they are responsible for. If managers won’t or are incapable of addressing bullying concerns brought to them we have not moved forward.

“I am taking this matter up with the cabinet secretary for health as a matter of urgency and I renew my calls for a staff survey of bullying within NHS Highland to be launched.”

Gavin Smith, GMB’s lead rep for NHS Highland, however regarded the development as partially positive in that the health board was beginning to face up to problems that he has flagged up for years.

He said: “This is a welcome change of tone from NHS Highland and it will help the health board in getting to grips with the ongoing bullying problem that GMB wants to see resolved along with many others.”

Regional Labour MSP David Stewart also saw some positives in the announcement.

“I’ve been told, by those who have contacted me about previous bullying and harassment cases, that it is still going on,” he said.

“Of course it’s unacceptable. No-one should have to put up with that. However, it’s difficult to prove without people being brave enough to step forward, especially if they are still working for the health authority.

“The fact that NHS Highland has now recognised the problem publicly is a big step forward and I hope the culture programme will stop cases escalating and help those staff affected.”

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