Call for independent Argyll probe into bullying of health and care staff

Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership.

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‘Too many people have been hurt, ignored and cannot move on with their lives until they get closure on what they have been through.’

So says a letter sent this week to Argyll and Bute councillors, MSPs and trade unions in which Brendan O’Hara MP, Councillor Dougie Philand and UNISON union rep Dawn Macdonald call for an independent probe into bullying of health and social care staff.

The letter states: ‘While we welcome the work currently being done to tackle the issues highlighted in the Sturrock Report into the culture of bullying and harassment of staff working in NHS Highland, we are disappointed that the report’s recommendation that a separate independent review into the specific circumstances Argyll and Bute has not yet been carried out.

Asking for a response by Monday October 19, the letter seeks the recipients’ support.

Alleging that the concerns of existing and former council employees working within Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) are not being taken as seriously as those of NHS Highland staff, the letter nonetheless ‘welcomes measures recently introduced to eradicate the culture of bullying and harassment’, acknowledging that ‘changing the culture of an organisation takes time’.

It goes on, however: ‘…barely a week passes when we are not contacted by current or former employees of the HSCP who are being bullied or who have been bullied in the past’ and claims that many current and former HSCP employees feel they cannot come forward ‘for fear of further bullying or the impact that whistleblowing may have on their future career’.

The letter states: ‘Too many people have been hurt, too many people have been ignored and too many people cannot move on with their lives until they get closure on what they have been through.’

A survey earlier this year revealed that 68 per cent of HSCP workers who responded had been bullied during their time working there.

The survey did not include the 770 Argyll and Bute Council social care staff who work with the HSCP.

Joanna McDonald, chief officer at Argyll and Bute HSCP, apologised to staff and pledged to take action.

In a report before Argyll and Bute Council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday October 15, Ms MacDonald said: ‘Communication, delivery, empathy and appropriate action have been identified as key actions in building relationships and trust with an integrated health and social care staff group.

‘Argyll and Bute HSCP is working with its partners, including the joint trades unions, to ensure we are meeting our commitments to staff, building a strong partnership across a wide geographic area and improving culture.’

She added that human resources staff are working to ‘ensure that staff managing integrated teams are aware of each respective partner’s policies and procedures’, adding that ‘change will take time and the participation of health and social care staff is key to this’.

A supplementary report to the committee by NHS Highland said that meetings had taken place relating to continued concerns about the plans.

The report said: ‘The key issues raised involved situations where managers are not consistently addressing colleague concerns about behaviours and how they are feeling, when raised at an early stage.

‘It is felt that the lack of effective action can be due to managers not seeing it as their role or not seeing it as important, or in some cases not having the skills to do so effectively. This means that issues that could be quickly resolved escalate into complex cases and relationship breakdowns.

‘There were also ongoing concerns about a small number of cases that aren’t progressing in a timely manner, and the need to review the data and processes involved to improve these.

‘There was also a desire to carry out ongoing collective lessons learned/case reviews to ensure any issues are addressed and understood, which will be taken forward.’