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NHS Highland boss dismisses calls for staff accused of bullying to be fired or suspended


By Scott Maclennan

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Pamela Dudek. NHS Highland chief executive...Picture: Gary Anthony..
Pamela Dudek. NHS Highland chief executive...Picture: Gary Anthony..

NHS Highland has ruled out suspending or dismissing staff implicated in bullying or harassment at the health board as the long-running crisis at the health board enters its third year.

At this week’s board meeting chief executive Pam Dudek rebuffed calls she said were made in the media for staff to face disciplinary action as more and more allegations of improper behaviour emerge.

Instead she opted to try to “shift the pattern” of bullying that she said is still occurring and through better management, adding that even a hint of bullying is a “problem for us.”

She also said there would not be a culture survey to assess the current bullying situation this year but there would likely be one in 2021, currently the focus will remain on taking action against improper behaviour.

Ms Dudek said: “While we will look to do a culture survey across the whole organisation including the health and social care partnership next year, at this point the emphasis needs to be on intervention.

“In the press there are calls for people to be suspended, to be dismissed and we are obviously not responding to that, that is not a route by which we work with our staff but I think it is important that we recognise everything that is being said but those are not means by which we would be taking action.

“Through further discussion with key people who have been on the end of a poor experience or have been in the management system, I think what is a key message is that some people are still experiencing this in the system.

“The plea and statement I would want to make as the accountable officer is that we absolutely don’t want bullying at our organisation. We want people who are doing a really hard job to be supported and treated well.

“And indeed if that continues then through the appropriate processes that we have, of performance management, of setting the tone of a leadership team, and implementing the culture programme that we try to shift the pattern that still seems to be emerging. Even if there is a slight hint of that then that is a problem for us.”

Her comments were made after consideration of the regular update on the culture programme that is designed to tackle the issue of bullying at the board and find a way forward as well as to offer psychological assistance and compensation to victims.

The chairman, Professor Boyd Robertson, offered a strong defence of the board’s performance over its recent handling of bullying issues.

“I think we need to realise that we have taken substantial steps in the last year and half since Sturrock was published. The numerous significant actions and initiatives we have taken to be placed on the record.

“We have established a culture programme board, which has morphed into a culture oversight group, we have appointed an independent external cultural advisor, we have a national whistle-blowing champion.

“We have had 23 staff engagement sessions in 11 different locations, we have had to co-production of the healing process about which we are getting very favourable feedback, we have had training for staff – courageous conversations and civility saves lives.

“We have had the employ me assistance programme and the guardian speak up programme, a staff survey in Argyll and Bute and we have reviewed our HR and recruitment processes.

“That is not an insubstantial list of initiatives, however notwithstanding all of that I do recognise there is still a long road ahead to embed a positive culture across all levels and at all areas of the organisation.

“But we have a real opportunity to be model for the entire NHS in Scotland and that is a point that has been recognised by the cabinet secretary.”



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