Dental hygienist speaks out on 'bullying' at NHS Highland

Image caption,
Pauline Thomson worked for the NHS for 23 years and now works for a private practice

A former NHS Highland employee has spoken of the bullying she says she experienced at the health board.

Degree dental therapist Pauline Thomson said was criticised over how she went about her work, how she looked and even where she parked her car.

She said she challenged the behaviour through formal processes but felt the outcomes were biased against her.

NHS Highland said it was making progress developing a programme to help staff feel "trusted and respected".

An independent review by John Sturrock QC earlier this year suggested there were potentially hundreds of people who had experienced bullying at the health board.

The review was prompted by a group of senior GPs based in and around Inverness alleging there was a "culture of bullying" at the health board.

In response to the Sturrock Report, NHS Highland has been working on an action plan to address problems indentified by the review.

Ms Thomson was an NHS employee for 23 years and is awaiting the outcome of an employment tribunal after raising a claim against her former employer NHS Highland.

She told BBC Scotland she was unhappy with the way the health board handled her complaints about how she was treated.

Ms Thomson said of her experience of alleged bullying: "It starts small. Nit-picking. Picking up on everything you do, what you do, how you look, what you say, where you park.

"You just feel that you can't do right for doing wrong."

Image caption,
Ms Thomson said she got the feeling the health board saw her as being "too much bother"

Ms Thomson, who now works for a private practice, added: "I'd been through a couple of formal processes and the outcomes were, in my opinion, biased and I wasn't happy with that.

"When I pushed for that to be reviewed and re-evaluated, only then did I get the feeling they thought I'm too much bother and 'she's not going to let it go - she's pushing and pushing and we don't like that'".

Brian Devlin, another former NHS Highland employee and spokesman for the Whistleblowing Group, said allegations of bullying came amid other challenges for NHS Highland.

He said: "So if you add problems with staffing, problems with finance that's going to have a knock-on effect on frontline services.

"The make-up of the board has to be looked at, that is important. Is this a competent board?"

'Huge amount of work'

NHS Highland said was making "steady progress" developing a "culture programme" for the health board.

A spokesman said: "It has been important to take time to understand the challenges our colleagues face in delivering services and working together, so we can design an organisational culture built on mutual trust and respect, where everyone feels valued and supported."

NHS Highland said a "productive meeting" was held with the Whistleblowing Group last month, and 23 "engagement sessions" had been held to date with 350 members of staff across 11 locations in Highland and Argyll and Bute during September and October.

The spokesman said: "What we were told at those sessions has influenced an updated action plan which will be finalised and reissued in the next few weeks."

He said the health board would be launching a "Healing Process" initiative which will focus on how it looks at concerns that have been raised, review and address concerns and identify any support needed for those affected.

The spokesman added: "There is still a huge amount of work to be done, but progress is being made."