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NHS Highland delivers 'milestone' in dealing with its bullying issues

By Scott Maclennan

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Politicians, whistle-blowers and unions have been involved.
Politicians, whistle-blowers and unions have been involved.

Eighteen months after whistle-blowers exposed NHS Highland’s culture of bullying, the health board has been praised for delivering what has been called a milestone moment in dealing with the crisis.

Bosses are set to finally deliver a plan that has satisfied the demands of whistle-blowers, unions, MSPs and the Scottish Government after all four pushed for individualised care for victims of harassment or bullying.

The Healing Process Plan was developed with the whistle-blowing group and the GMB union. It will be discussed at tomorrow’s NHS Highland board meeting, paving the way for the creation of an independent review panel (IRP) which will make recommendations based on every person who comes forward claiming to be a victim.

According to the plan, the IRP will “focus on listening and understanding the experience and circumstances from the applicant’s perspective” to determine the “resolution that is most likely to aid healing for the individual and organisation”.

The process has five outcomes ranging from an apology and a recommendation for organisational improvement to the provision of psychological support, to compensation, being re-employed or re-deployed, being referred to other mediation processes or no further action being taken by NHS Highland.

The panel making those decisions will be made up of an employment law specialist, a retired NHS HR and clinical directors, retired union official and a NHS non-executive director as well as a lived-experience representative.

But the IRP is not to sit in judgement as part of disciplinary processesbut can recommend a compensation range from £500 to £95,000 and possibly higher.

The highest payouts must demonstrate that the individual has suffered “exceptionally serious and sustained harm” over a long period with an extensive number of incidents.

The recommendations are based on the review completed by John Sturrock QC which was first called for by Conservative MSP Edward Mountain.

“I welcome NHS Highland’s Healing Process Plan," Mr Mountain said. "Our healthcare professionals are working hard for everyone during the Covid-19 outbreak but it remains important that the process of healing continues, following the Sturrock Report, so that a closer sense of togetherness is built during these difficult times.”

The GMB’s Gavin Smith said he was delighted with the plan and praised the board for not putting it off while handling the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“I am pleased that they worked with the whistle-blowing group, who feel they were properly listened to – this plan was achieved in co-production which proved a genuinely useful approach,” he said.

Brian Devlin, the former director of corporate affairs at NHS Highland and a victim of bullying, said: “I recognise that all attention is rightly focused on coronavirus today and I’m conscious of the heroic efforts NHS Highland staff are putting in to treat patients.

“Nevertheless, this is a milestone moment in NHS Highland for another reason. Today they have produced their document outlining the healing process for the many staff who have been injured as a consequence of being bullied at work.”

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