WHISTLEBLOWERS behind the NHS Highland ‘bullying culture’ crisis have welcomed “constructive discussions” with Scotland’s health chiefs as they continue to push for a public inquiry.
Members of the GMB trade union and doctors from NHS Highland met yesterday with the chief executive of NHS Scotland, Paul Gray, for the first time since the row over a so-called “culture of fear and intimidation” erupted in September.
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The meeting was arranged after Health Secretary Jeane Freeman intervened to insist that the allegations must be subject to an independent, external investigation.
Campaigners want a QC-led public inquiry, entirely separate from NHS Highland and the wider NHS.
Dr Iain Kennedy, a GP from Inverness who has helped spearhead the campaign, said the meeting had gone “extremely well”.
He said: “It was a very useful meeting indeed and we all feel that we have been listened to respectfully and openly.
“We welcome the discussion with NHS Scotland around an independent, QC-led, inquiry into the culture of bullying within NHS Highland. This sends a a very welcome signal to all those who have suffered the trauma of bullying within the organisation.”
GMB Regional Organiser, Liz Gordon, said the talks had been “open and honest”.
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Dr Kennedy said there were plans to meet again soon, and that the representatives had also met with senior executives at the headquarters in Edinburgh of doctors’ trade union, BMA Scotland.
He said: “We were able to share with them our experience in the Highlands, in the hope that it can help staff across the NHS.
“This is the first time victims voices have really been heard and the progress towards an inquiry means we are creating a safer space for staff to share their stories.”
The issue was thrust into the spotlight when four doctors – Dr Kennedy, who is also medical secretary for the Highland Local Medical Committee; Dr Eileen Anderson, chair of the Area Medical Committee; Dr Lorien Cameron-Ross, vice-chair of the Area Medical Committee; and Dr Jonathan Ball, chair of the GP sub-committee – wrote to the Herald describing a decade-long “culture of fear and intimidation” which they said emanated from the “very top” of NHS Highland and had led to a suppression of criticism to the detriment of patient care.
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The claims were backed by some former board members, and to date nearly 200 staff members have approached the GMB to to share personal accounts of bullying.
David Alston, chair of NHS Highland, said the board welcomes external input and has “nothing to hide”.
He said: “The board has said all along that we have nothing to hide and, therefore, in order to understand and address the underlying issues, we would welcome external input to determine what is required.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We welcome that NHS Highland has recognised the importance of fully addressing this issue, and the need for an independent process to fully investigate the matter.
“The welfare of NHS staff is paramount, and any claims of bullying in the workplace must be treated with the utmost seriousness. Following discussions in September, the Scottish Government has already agreed to provide external support to NHS Highland.
“The Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has requested that an independent external investigation be established to examine these issues in NHS Highland and seek resolutions.
“Chief Executive of NHS Scotland Paul Gray, and other senior officials, met representatives of the clinicians to discuss their concerns. This meeting was helpful, and provided useful input to the final form and scope that the independent external investigation will take.”
Source : HeraldScotland