‘Hundreds’ of NHS Highland staff report intimidation at work

A review into allegations that a “bullying culture” exists at NHS Highland has found potentially hundreds of staff have endured 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.

John Sturrock QC published his report on Thursday.

It found 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.

It said a minority of respondents had intimated there is not a problem with bullying at the board.

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

However, the investigation did not conclusively determine whether a culture of bullying exists at the board.

Mr Sturrock’s report did determine that senior officials in the Scottish Government were aware of the “dysfunctional situation” at the board and at senior leadership level for a “considerable period of time” prior to matters becoming more public in the autumn of 2017.

It highlighted a tension for the Scottish Government between intervening and encouraging organisations and individuals to deal with issues themselves, indicating that Government is often accused of over-involvement yet, when things go wrong, is held responsible.

It also found some individuals in senior management at the board are characterised as having adopted an “autocratic, intimidating, closed, suppressing, defensive and centralising style”.

An absence of a vision with specific goals and timelines was highlighted as contributing to a “sense of lack of direction”.

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.

The report calls for a reset of senior management, as well as recommending the Scottish Government demonstrates and supports “people-centred leadership”.

Professor Boyd Robertson, interim chair of NHS Highland, said: “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.”

Iain Stewart, NHS Highland chief executive, said: “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.”

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