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Bullying saga for NHS Highland in spotlight as health board hears 184 payments totalling £2.4m have been approved as part of the 'healing process'

By Ian Duncan

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Fiona Hogg.
Fiona Hogg.

Victims of bullying at NHS Highland are expected to have had their cases closed within the next five months.

The health board was told today that a total of 226 people have been heard by an Independent Review Panel (IRP) and 213 have had their recommendations reviewed by NHS Highland’s remuneration committee – so far 184 pay ments have been approved to talling £2,410,000 as part of the Healing Process.

Another 57 victims are still in volved in the system.

The work was triggered by a group of whistle-blower medics who highlighted concerns about a culture of bullying within NHS Highland in September 2018. It led to an independent review that prompted the health board to make changes.

As part of measures to make sure it maintains its focus on tackling the problem, the IRP has produced a third ‘learning report’ for the board.

It states: “The testimonies we have heard to date indicate that bullying and harassment was occurring at all levels in the organisation.”

Director of people and culture Fiona Hogg, who joined NHS Highland in summer 2019, told the Courier: “The review pan el and that process has been running since last July and they meet people two or three times a week.

“Once the panel has met, they take a few weeks to write their recommendations for the remu neration committee.

“The remuneration committee is meeting every four weeks and typically, at any one remuneration committee, will have 15-20 anonymised recommendations to approve.

“We are definitely on track for those final 57 participants to have completed their pan el hearing by March – those are being sched uled now – and everyone should have had their outcome from the process by late April.

“The panel will be focusing on providing their final report to us, which should come to the board in July.”

Ms Hogg said they knew the process would take some time, because of the num ber of people affected, and went on: “The reason we have had these interim reports is because it is quite important that the panel tells us on a regular basis what they are find ing so we can start to address it rather than waiting until we get to the end.”

She said they had introduced measures such as mental health awareness pro grammes as well as 24/7 support and coun selling available to staff.

“We are right in the process at the mo ment of looking at what our priorities are and I think awareness of mental health is definitely getting better but actually there is more we can do and that mental health first aid approach is something that we want to focus on,” she stressed.

The report notes there had been an over-reliance on suspension from duties while investigations were carried out – around 50 in 2018 – but this had been re duced to three short-term suspensions in the six months to the end of March 2021.

The report said: “This is a real improvement, which is to be commended, but we would urge that this continues to be an area of scrutiny.”

Ms Hogg said: “Suspension is something that is only used where it is absolutely im possible for someone to be at work or to be redeployed. The progress we have made there is really good.

“We make full use of early resolution pro cesses, particularly where there are harass ment or grievance complaints rather than starting a formal process that can be quite onerous and not particularly good for get ting a quick resolution.

“We are doing more work on trying to sit down with people early on and say ‘what can we do to support you better and how do we come to a resolution?’ and only resorting to a formal policy where that does not work.”

The report recognised that human behav iour is such that these experiences will nev er be eradicated, adding: “However, with an improved culture, NHS Highland can facilitate resolution at an earlier stage, and staff can feel confident to speak up when difficulties arise and that difficulties will be addressed effectively.”

Ms Hogg said: “The thing that always strikes us is that we have a workforce of amazing, kind and compassionate people who are so committed to delivering services and support to our patients and communi ties. That is the big thing that you see and hear.

“What we are focusing on doing is wrap ping as much support as possible around them and making sure that experience that they give to our patients and communities is replicated in what they experience when they are at work. People are definitely notic ing some of that change.”

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