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Full extent of bullying at NHS Highland may never come out

By Val Sweeney

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Former NHS Highland official Brian Devlin.
Former NHS Highland official Brian Devlin.

More than 60 complaints of bullying at NHS Highland have been raised in the last two years, figures reveal.

It has also emerged that 39 cases currently remain open, of which 20 have been open for longer than nine months.

There has also been one dismissal – while five cases, where investigation has been completed, are currently at the hearing stage.

The figures have been obtained under a Freedom of Information request while separately, NHS Highland revealed that 154 people have registered with the Healing Process – a service set up at the end of May to support individuals who suffered bullying or harassment while working for the health authority.

But one victim of bullying says the full extent of bullying may never be known.

Brian Devlin, former head of communications for the health authority, said bullying still continued.

“We need to remember that these figures do not represent the amount of people being bullied in the organisation,” he said.

“These figures are about the number of processes going on. There will be far, far more people bullying and being bullied who never reach an investigation stage, or who are just contemplating whether or not to go through with it.

“We may never know the full extent of bullying that’s taking place now, as we speak, in NHS Highland.”

He said bullying should be treated as a form of violence.

“We have a zero tolerance of physical violence at work – we should demand the same for bullying,” he said.

“Equally we should have zero tolerance for those who observe bullying going on and do nothing about it.

“That behaviour is a tacit acceptance that bullying is tolerable, that it’s okay.”

Dr Iain Kennedy.
Dr Iain Kennedy.

Iain Kennedy, one of a quartet of medics who raised concerns about bullying within NHS Highland, said it could take years for the culture to change throughout the organisation.

But overall he and his colleagues were extremely impressed by the Healing Process.

“I have only heard very positive feedback from those who have engaged with it,” he said.

Many people said they were benefiting already from psychological therapies while those who had attended the panel were giving positive reports about how well they had been treated.

“People have felt absolutely believed perhaps for the first time,” he said.

“They have been very impressed by individuals on the panel.

“Those people who are deserving of a financial settlement are looking forward to receiving an outcome from the remuneration committee so they can move on with their lives.”

He acknowledged for some, the process had been slow but he felt the positive response from victims outweighed the frustration.

He was surprised even one person had been dismissed as NHS Highland had protected far too many bullies over the years and had been bystanders.

He said victims who had been in touch had always felt people should have done the honourable thing and stood down.

“On a personal level, I am not expecting more dismissals nor am I calling for it unless NHS Highland thinks it is appropriate,” he said.

In the reply to the FOI, it was stated the 20 cases remaining open for longer than nine months were due to appeal processes, absence of complainant or investigation manager and also the extended process for medical staff investigations.

Asked about the one dismissal, an NHS Highland spokesman said the health authority did not comment on individual cases.

Related story: Bosses at NHS Highland say positive steps being made to address bullying

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