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Tribunal ends '10 years of darkness' for Highland dental therapist

By Gregor White

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Pauline Thomson claims she was bullied out of her job.
Pauline Thomson claims she was bullied out of her job.

A dental therapist is furious NHS Highland will not take action against high-ranking staff who she claims bullied her out of a job.

Pauline Thomson, of Inverness, spoke out after winning an employment tribunal against the board.

It is the first case of its kind to come to light since last year’s Sturrock Review into allegations of bullying at NHS Highland.

Mrs Thomson, who represented herself, refused any kind of settlement and was awarded a payout of more than £2000.

She won her case for unfair constructive dismissal with the verdict uncovering a litany of “failures” and involving some academic staff at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

Mrs Thomson said she was first “victimised” by tutors when studying oral health science at UHI over “silly things” such as where she parked or how she wore her hair or who she ate lunch with.

After graduating, she applied for a position as a tutor and that was when she was targeted by high-ranking clinicians who labelled her as “not to be trusted” in a letter and covering email.

The health board’s own investigation later stated that Mrs Thomson’s belief that it was “malicious and written with the intention of preventing her from being successful in interviews” may be “considered reasonable”.

Senior dental officer Dr David Monks drafted the letter with input from dental therapist and tutor Lynne MacKay.

The letter and email were sent to the health board’s HR department by the dental therapy programme director Linda Gunn – an employee of NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

Mrs Thomson was not told about the accusations against her – she only discovered the letter and email existed five years later.

Clinical dental director Dr John Lyon became involved in 2017 and decided the best course of action would be to “manage her [Mrs Thomson] out of the organisation” – the email he wrote containing this suggestion ultimately prompted her to resign.

Mrs Thomson said: “When I saw the letter, initially I was devastated, it was awful to read things like that about myself. Once the authors were eventually identified it all made sense. It was typical school-ground behaviour displayed by institutionalised egotistical bullies.

“When I won the employment tribunal, I felt fantastic.

“All I can say is that 10 years of darkness immediately lifted. I strongly deny the contents of the letter – it was without doubt malicious.”

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “There is no finding of any matters which required disciplinary action. The tribunal verdict is specifically about the timing of sharing a covering email and the expressing of a management view regarding how to deal with a long-standing, complex and challenging situation involving an employee.

“The finding of unfair dismissal is as a result of the member of staff resigning and is fundamentally a procedural and employment law matter, but one which we can and have taken learning from.

“NHS Highland accepts the findings of the tribunal and acknowledges that there were failures in specific aspects of the management of this case, for which we apologise.

“The letter referred to was written in 2012 and was not anonymous; it was the raising of genuinely held concerns at that time over a colleague who is no longer employed.

“Any errors identified relate to how this information was dealt with at the time and subsequently. It is important that anyone who has concerns is able to raise these and have these listened to and investigated.”

UHI said it “had nothing to add at this time”.

Mrs Thomson has set up a Facebook page in the wake of her case at https://www.facebook.com/courage2continueon/

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