The £3.4 million pay-out to staff bullied at NHS Highland shows the extent of the problem, says Fernie.
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THE bullying culture at NHS Highland has been "a blight on people's lives" and no amount of money can compensate for that.
So said Caithness Health Action Team chairman, Bill Fernie, who spoke out after it emerged £3.4 million will be paid out to staff who were bullied over a number of years. Local MP, Jamie Stone, said this "torrid affair must never be repeated" and called it "a dark day for the NHS."
Mr Fernie described the bullying as "a complete disgrace" and said the pay-out to the victims is justified.
He said the problems were endemic and been going on for a long time. "The amount of money having to be paid out shows the extent of the problem.
"This has been a blight on people's lives and I feel very sorry for anyone who has had to put up with that for many years. They have been put through the mill and no amount of money can compensate for that. There are people who should be called to account over this. There is a public board and the members should have been asking the correct questions to get to the bottom of these ongoing problems. It still seems to be going on so NHS Highland needs to change the culture and that is not an easy thing to do," said Mr Fernie.
He said the Scottish Government has to fund the £3.4 million – initially thought to amount to £4.2 million – but says that money could have been spent on improving patient services. He said the bullying culture could make it more difficult for NHS Highland to recruit staff in the future.
"This has been widely publicised and people applying for jobs know that," added Mr Fernie.
Caithness, Sutherland and easter Ross Liberal Democrat MP, Jamie Stone, said: "It is a dark day when our local NHS is paying out millions of pounds to victims of an institutional bullying culture within the health service. We must ensure that this torrid affair is never again repeated. Rebuilding that trust for employees and patients alike will require fair, transparent leadership, not just from NHS Highland leaders but from ministers in the Scottish Government."
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, Edward Mountain, said: "The expected sum of £3.4 million highlights just how big a problem bullying was and still is within NHS Highland.
"I do welcome that more and more victims of bullying at NHS Highland are receiving the compensation payments they are owed and deserve.
"The Healing Process is playing a vital role and it is important that every case lodged as part of this process is addressed swiftly.
"I am still concerned though that bullying remains a persistent problem within the health board.
"As we continue to await the SNP Health Secretary to organise a debate on the bullying of staff within NHS Highland, be in no doubt that I will continue to press the Scottish Government and NHS Highland to take measures which will protect the wellbeing of our NHS staff ."
A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: "Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected at work. NHS Highland is fully committed to learning from the Healing Process to make sure we do all we can to be a great place to work. The Independent Review Panel makes recommendations for action based on what they feel will aid healing, having listened to participants, and NHS Highland has supported all of their recommendations for psychological therapies, apologies and financial payments, as well as the organisational learnings."
A group of Highlands GPs first complained of a culture of bullying at NHS Highland three years ago. An independent review by lawyer John Sturrock QC found there were potentially hundreds of people who had experienced bullying at the health board.