Highlands & Islands

'Destructive bullying' at NHS Highland, say whistleblowers

Dr Alistair Todd and Dr Lorien Cameron-Ross
Image caption Dr Alistair Todd and Dr Lorien Cameron-Ross said bullying had a destructive effect on people's jobs and lives

Bullying at NHS Highland "wrecked careers" and left workers feeling suicidal, doctors who blew the whistle on the behaviour have said.

A review of allegations of a culture of bullying at the health board has suggested "many hundreds" of staff experienced inappropriate behaviour.

But doctors who brought the problems to the public's attention last year said the review had not gone far enough.

They said some of the affected employees deserved compensation.

Dr Iain Kennedy, one of the group of senior clinicians who raised the allegations in September last year, said he made the health board aware of bullying in 2011.

He said he was then "marginalised" and no action was taken to tackle the problem. He said the newly-completed review and response to it from NHS Highland was still not enough.

Dr Kennedy told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "What we have seen and heard so far is not enough.

"We need an apology from the whole board of NHS Highland to each and every one of the victims of bullying.

"And this apology must acknowledge that bullying happened and that individuals suffered."

Image caption Dr Iain Kennedy said he was 'marginalised' after raising concerns in 2011

Dr Kennedy said there were people who deserved to be given back jobs that they had lost, and others who should be compensated for the loss of earnings.

The clinician said some staff had suffered psychological problems.

He said: "Some victims suffer from severe anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder and suicidal intent - classical signs of victims of bullying."

Dr Lorien Cameron-Ross, another of the original group of whistleblowers, said people had not felt confident raising their concerns through formal process.

She said since September many had come forward with information on their experiences of bullying.

Dr Cameron-Ross said: "We have read testimonials of some of the most harrowing stories of things that have gone on and happened to people, and they haven't been able to raise things through the processes."

'Supportive people'

Dr Alistair Todd, a former senior radiologist who has supported the whistleblowers, said that for 10 to 15 years managers were brought in and tried to do "good jobs", before finding themselves "sidelined and effectively being dismissed".

He said: "It has been so destructive to people's lives. You have seen that careers have been wrecked. You have seen people taking extended periods of sick leave and depression and suicidal thoughts have followed that."

Following the release of the review's report on Thursday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the culture at the health board had been unacceptable, and she supported the review's recommendations.

These include educating all staff on the effects of bullying and providing a "properly functioning, clear, safe and respected wholly independent and confidential whistleblowing" mechanism.

NHS Highland runs services in Argyll and Bute, and another recommendation was that a separate review be done of the "functioning of management" in this area, partly because of its geography.

NHS Highland said it would not tolerate unacceptable behaviour under any circumstances and was committed to ensuring that lessons were learned.

Amid the claims of bullying, the review said there were "thousands of well-motivated, caring and supportive people providing excellent caring services to thousands of patients in the area served by NHS Highland, often sacrificially and well beyond the call of duty".

Bullying claims timeline

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A group of senior clinicians called for an inquiry of their claims
  • 26 September 2018: A group of senior clinicians at NHS Highland speak out about what they claim to be a culture of bullying at the health board. The doctors say that for at least a decade there has been a "practice of suppressing criticism, which emanates from the very top of the organisation"
  • 2 October: NHS Highland seeks a resolution to the allegations through a meeting with the clinicians, but the doctors call for the matter to go to a public inquiry
  • 5 November: Health Secretary Jeane Freeman requests an independent external investigation to examine allegations of bullying within NHS Highland
  • 23 November: John Sturrock QC appointed to lead an independent review of the allegations
  • 9 May 2019: Independent review report published

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