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MSP David Stewart highlights ‘underlying toxic culture of bullying' in NHS Highland in debate

28th November 2018

Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart told a Members' Business Debate in Parliament this evening that he felt there was "an underlying toxic culture of bullying" at NHS Highland.

His comments follow his attendance at a GMB, doctors' and whistle-blowers' meeting at Eden Court Theatre on Friday last week where the experiences of staff past and present were highlighted.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour's Shadow Health Minister, told this evening’s debate that he had now met many people, spoken to several former health board non-executives and received many phone calls and emails from concerned staff in administration, front line nursing and GP practices.

"It seemed to me that there was an underlying toxic culture of bullying," he said.

"This clearly was having an effect on staff morale and emotional health. The wider issue was the possible effect this has been having on the credibility of NHS Highland and its ability to recruit and retain staff. It is difficult to measure the effect on patients but it will surely have had an impact."

Mr Stewart said he was particularly struck by one of the stories read out at last week’s meeting and read out a section to other MSPs:

"You raise a bullying and harassment case and yet every step of the way you are on trial. Your character is attacked and you are then subject to mockery and someone even writes you are schizophrenic in their statement. Every step of the way you are treated like you have done something wrong. You start to doubt yourself and even your own character. You are isolated. You cannot talk to anyone about it but you know everyone knows....."

Mr Stewart went on to welcome the appointment of QC John Sturrock, in charge of the review into allegations of bullying and harassment at NHS Highland, also announced last Friday by Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, and welcomed the terms of the review to include current and former staff.

He asked if the review would impose any time limit in respect of former staff in terms of when they left and if patients, if they have witnessed or experienced bullying amongst NHS staff, would be considered by the review.

And, he asked if the review would be published in full and if the Health and Sport Committee, of which he is a member, would have a role in the proceedings. In addition, he raised the issue of ACAS being involved.

He highlighted that next year the role of the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer would be examined by the Health and Sport Committee

“It will provide new principles, standards and procedures to protect and enhance the role of whistle blowers," he said.

“In conclusion, this has been a timely debate. Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity and respect at work. Bullying and harassment are unacceptable and are a violation of human and legal rights.

“Let us look to the new year and conclusion of the review for a new dawn where staff in NHS Highland start afresh in safety and security as respected, dedicated professionals, free from the dark cloud of bullying.”

The debate was lodged by Edward Mountain and supported by other parties - see wording below


Edward Mountain S5M-14643

Investigation into Bullying Claims at NHS Highland

That the Parliament condemns bullying in any shape or form; welcomes the independent external investigation to examine the claims of bullying in the workplace at NHS Highland, which was announced by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport on 2 November 2018, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that the matter is resolved fully and promptly.

This matter was debated in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 27th November 2018. See the full debate at -

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