Survey reveals widespread bullying of health workers

Argyll and Bute HSCP chief officer, Joanna MacDonald
Argyll and Bute HSCP chief officer, Joanna MacDonald

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Health bosses have once again been forced to apologise to current and former staff members after a survey revealed extensive bullying in Argyll and Bute.

In a survey commissioned by NHS Highland, 68 per cent of respondents said they had experienced bullying and harassment. In total, 446 (29 per cent) of 1,540 NHS staff at Argyll and Bute HSCP, plus 62 former employees, responded to the independent survey.

NHS Highland is working on building ‘a culture of trust, fairness and respect’ in response to the damning findings of the Sturrock Report on bullying within NHS Highland.

This has so far seen the announcement of the ‘Healing Process’, a new Employee Assistance Programme and independent ‘Speak Up’ service, due to begin on July 1.

An independent helpline has been set up as part of a 100-day action plan for Argyll and Bute.

‘We are deeply concerned by the results of the survey and accept them fully, responded NHS Highland chair, Professor Boyd Robertson.

‘We sincerely apologise to any colleague who has experienced bullying or harassment and are determined to make the changes necessary to improve the experience for colleagues and rebuild trust and confidence across the whole organisation.

‘While significant work has already been undertaken to deliver a number of initiatives to address our cultural issues, this report reinforces the need for that programme to continue and for key priorities to be acted upon quickly. We have immediately put in place an action plan for Argyll and Bute which integrates into our wider culture improvement programme and will be delivered in partnership with colleagues and independent agencies.’

Argyll and Bute HSCP chief officer Joanna Macdonald said: ‘It is distressing to see a significant number of our colleagues have experienced bullying and harassment and addressing the implications of this report will be a high priority.

‘We will work in close partnership with colleagues and stakeholders across all of the organisation to deliver the actions necessary to achieve a culture based upon dignity and respect for each other.’

Dawn MacDonald, UNISON Highland Health Care branch secretary, said the bullying ‘must stop’.

‘It is tragic that the very staff that we clap for every Thursday to thank them for their unselfish caring for our loved ones have experienced bullying and harassment working for the NHS,’ she continued.

She added: ‘These results are not surprising. UNISON has been raising concerns internally and with the Scottish Government regarding behaviours within the HSCP, the management team and human resources department since October 2018.’

Councillor Anne Horn said she had previously been assured Argyll and Bute HSCP management acted to eliminate bullying, yet it is still happening.

‘Bullying is abuse and there is no excuse,’ Councillor Horn said.

‘This is totally unacceptable at any time,’ said Councillor Dougie Philand ‘but at a time when our staff are stressed working extremely hard to save lives in our communities, the perpetrators should be subject to immediate investigation.’

Councillor Sandy Taylor is a member of the Integration Joint Board (IJB), the group overseeing health and social care in Argyll and Bute.

He said: ‘I will challenge bullying whenever it comes to my attention and I will support and encourage every effort to replace that negative culture with one in which people are treated with respect, built on trust and confidence.’

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said that a culture of bullying ‘has pervaded the local NHS for a long time’.

He added: ‘This survey makes upsetting reading. It took place after recommendations in the Sturrock report on bullying in Highland NHS and clearly John Sturrock was right to suggest it, given the very disturbing picture it reveals.

‘A culture of bullying has pervaded the local NHS for a long time and those who were responsible for allowing that culture to develop, and sometimes enforcing by their behaviour, need to be held to account.

‘The new board and the new HSCP are right to have apologised and I am glad that they have also put together a radical and far reaching plan to tackle and eradicate workplace bullying once and for all.

‘Now they need to put that plan into operation in co-operation with staff and to do so in an open and sympathetic way. I think the change of management in the HSCP has been and will be  of great benefit and I know that Joanna MacDonald is committed to securing a better future and better working conditions for all HSCP staff in the area. I will support her in her efforts to achieve that.

‘I am sure we all want to ensure that local NHS workers, who are doing so much for us during this crisis – and always do – are respected, listened to and supported.

‘The culture of bullying extended further though. Local organisations and local representatives were often treated with disdain and sometimes experienced hectoring and bullying behaviour from senior staff as well.

‘It happened to me on more than one occasion and it was utterly unacceptable. It was one of the reasons that I was so keen to see major change in the management and governance of the HSCP and so glad when that was achieved.

‘Rebuilding trust with communities across the area has already started but it will need to move forward apace. I am happy to do all I can to help and to banish this stain on the reputation of the local NHS once and for all.’