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New allegations of bullying at NHS Highland

By Scott Maclennan

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Myra Duncan.
Myra Duncan.

NHS Highland has been rocked by fresh bullying allegations as a former non-executive director claimed she was forced to resign because of the behaviour of colleagues.

Myra Duncan has held senior positions in NHS management in both Scotland and England.

She resigned two years ago and today revealed to the Courier for the first time her reasons for quitting.

“In hindsight, I would describe it as bullying from two members of the board over a period of time from the summer of 2016,” she said.

“I had the feeling the board was being treated as peripheral and that information coming to the board was being managed.”

Her revelations will be a body blow to the new management team at NHS Highland as they continue to attempt to address the fall-out from the Sturrock report into bullying.

Mrs Duncan’s resignation letter from April 2017 said: “In my view, there are many underlying issues with regard to understanding of and respect for the role of the board and the role of staff, and understanding of accountability is seriously lacking. I have tried over the last 6-12 months to raise issues, but it has resulted in a conflict in relationships.

“My view is that the board is not able to fulfil its governance role because of the way it is operating and it cannot hold executives to account.”

She refused to name the two individuals and it is not known whether they are still members.

After her resignation, it is understood other non-executive board members raised concerns about management style at the health board.

It prompted a letter to non-executives by Anne Gent (HR director), Rod Harvey (medical director), Hugo Van Woerden (director of public health) and Heidi May (nurse director).

It said simply: “The following executive board members wish to confirm to our non-executive colleagues that we are expressing our unreserved support for the chair-man and chief executive.”

At the time that would have been David Alston (chairman) and Elaine Mead (chief executive).

It is the role of non-executives to question the processes and policies of an organisation and hold those in day-to-day management to account.

While Ms Gent and Mr Harvey have left the board, Mr Van Woerden and Ms May remain in post.

That has led Dr Iain Kennedy, one of the original bullying whistle-blowers, to call for them to be suspended pending an independent inquiry.

He said: “We must ask, were the executive directors coerced by the chairman or the chief executive at the time? It looks like the non-executives were prevented from performing their role though it could be they were too weak to hold the board to account.”

The latest revelations come as members of the board attend a “retreat” at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness to review progress on addressing bullying issues.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “The letter was written in August 2017 at a point in time that preceded much of the information which has subsequently come to light. We are sorry for all of the hurt that has been caused to many members of staff.

“The NHS Highland board and the senior leadership team fully acknowledge the content of the Sturrock Report and are working hard to implement the proposals contained within it.

“We are working with our staff and other key stakeholders to develop a culture which is fit for our future.”

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