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Dismay at 'strange stance' by NHS Highland over bullying victims

By Gordon Calder

Victims of bullying at NHS Highland attended this week’s board meeting. Picture: Callum Mackay
Victims of bullying at NHS Highland attended this week’s board meeting. Picture: Callum Mackay

A CALL has been made for the Scottish Government to step in to help NHS Highland victims of bullying after they were told they would have to go to court or an employment tribunal to get compensation.

Ron Gunn, a vice-chairman of Caithness Health Action Team, says he is dismayed at "the strange stance" taken by the health authority over the claims which were exposed by a group of clinicians and led to an independent review by John Sturrock QC earlier this year.

It described staff suffering "fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour at work" and made a number of recommendations that were accepted by Scotland's health minister Jeane Freeman.

But at a meeting of the health board in Inverness on Tuesday it was revealed that victims will have to go through legal or employment tribunals to get financial compensation. The move was described as "a slap in the face" by some of the whistleblowers and their supporters.

Mr Gunn was also unhappy with the decision. He said: "It is a strange course of action to take as the Sturrock Report was pretty damning and found evidence of bullying going on. I would have thought the board would have backed the employees rather than get them to pursue the matter themselves.

"Having to go to court or an employment tribunal will just drag the thing out."

Mr Gunn said that if NHS Highland is not prepared to pay compensation to the bullying victims then the Scottish Government should act.

"They should step in and offer them something," he said. "Bullying has gone on – there is no doubt about that. If people are brave enough to come forward they should be supported."

Victims of the bullying culture were "hugely disappointed" by the NHS Highland's decision and the lack of progress on the issue.

Among those who turned out for the board meeting was the former head of facilities, Douglas Seago, who believes the board should have been more sensitive to victims.

Having to go to court or an employment tribunal will just drag the thing out.

He said: "I was extremely disappointed the health board expects people who have been in an extremely adversarial situation... to go back into an adversarial situation through tribunals and civil courts to get any kind of compensation.

"I respect the board’s requirements to have responsibility for its financial situation but I am sure there could have been a more imaginative way to come to a conclusion for those who have been harmed both emotionally and financially by the bullying actions."

Highland MSP David Stewart, Labour’s shadow public health minister, said: "This is a huge blow for the many people who have contacted me with very distressing details about how they were treated by the health authority.

"There are former employees who have lost or left their jobs and, in some cases, had their careers ruined and most, if not all, will be unable to go to an industrial tribunal due to a time-bar on cases, and will be unable to afford a civil case.

"In September, at the parliament’s health and sport committee, interim chair Professor Boyd Robertson told me that compensation was being considered but he could not give a definitive answer about how it would be tackled. That gave people some hope which has now been taken away."

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