Health and care bullying victims speak out

The NHS Highland Healing Process closes for registration on March 31, 2021

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The impacts of bullying within Argyll and Bute health and care services have been laid bare as victims spoke to the Argyllshire Advertiser about their experiences.

As reported in our March 5 edition, the deadline for NHS Highland’s Healing Process falls at the end of the month.

An Argyll and Bute Culture Group has also been set up to address bullying in the wider Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) and is due to provide a progress report in the next few weeks.

NHS Highland chairman Professor Boyd Robertson and Joanna Macdonald, chief officer of Argyll and Bute HSCP, have each apologised to victims, while the Healing Process invites victims to come forward.

An HSCP spokesperson said last week that the organisation was ‘committed to an independent progress review in the spring, which will include all health and social care staff within the HSCP as well as the wider NHS Highland population, and this will enable recognition of the progress made and those areas requiring further improvement’.

As these processes continue, news broke that Argyll and Bute Council has been rebuked by an employment tribunal as former social worker Melani Erlank was awarded almost £27,000 for unfair dismissal.

She was sacked in September 2019 following a long-running dispute in which she claimed to have been bullied by her manager.

The tribunal recorded that the local authority allowed the issue to ‘fester’ for years, with senior managers ‘supportive’ of the manager while having ‘no will’ to help Ms Erlank.

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: ‘We are committed to doing all possible to create a positive working environment for our employees.

‘We take seriously any complaints about employees’ working experience and will continue to progress, with the HSCP, development of a constructive culture that supports all our employees in all the many different roles required to deliver effective services.’

To register for the NHS Highland Healing Process by March 31, visit, email or call 03333 445892.

The staff member

A former employee of Argyll and Bute HSCP has spoken to the Argyllshire Advertiser about her experiences.

She worked for a number of years supporting adults with learning disabilities and loved her work.

‘The hours were great, the people I supported were fantastic and I knew my job,’ she said.

‘It was very rewarding.’

Then there was a change in management and, she claims, the bullying began.

She says she was treated ‘in a way you wouldn’t do to a dog’. When she was working they would stand beside her ‘snarling’ at her.

She says it got to the stage there wasn’t even a ‘hello’ from colleagues in the morning and her confidence dropped.

She continued: ‘I started questioning everything. I’m usually a very positive person, but I did not enjoy that experience.

‘Nobody should go to work to be insulted. I was crying when I went to bed at night. I was slowly becoming someone I didn’t like, and it affected my family.

‘I had to leave that job.’

She also said that ‘four or five other people’ left in the time she was there because of bullying behaviour.

Senior management, she claims, failed to deal with the situation effectively.

‘This was a place of care, but because senior managers did little to discourage bullying, it actually spread as other staff jumped on the bandwagon.

‘There are guidelines within the HSCP for bullying, but managers were not applying them, so they meant nothing.

‘If people were supported at work it would be so much better for everyone. Happy people give more and can provide a better service.’

Since leaving, she has forged a successful career elsewhere and is content with her life, but the scars remain.

The group

The bullying culture within Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) is alleged to have extended beyond staff, with one public group claiming it was almost bullied out of existence.

Argyll and Bute HSCP was formed on April 1, 2016 as an amalgamation of NHS Highland health services in Argyll and Bute with Argyll and Bute Council social care.

A key element in the HSCP strategic plan was to establish locality planning groups (LPGs) to govern and account for the delivery of services in each locality, each with community representation, including the third sector, independent sector, community councils, as well as representatives from the Health Care Forum (HCF).

These HCFs offered a platform for members of the public to become actively involved in the planning and delivery of health and social care services.

By 2018, as it consulted on a new draft strategic plan, the HSCP had removed administrative support for the forum, while no representatives from the HSCP were attending meetings.

In February 2019 HCF chairperson Barabel McKay said: ‘Public engagement, a basic founding principle of the HSCP, appears to have been completely disregarded.’

Looking back, she feels this represented institutional bullying as the forum was sidelined and ignored.

Mrs McKay explained: ‘The HSCP…blew away any pretence at partnership by treating the body which represented the public in the way it did.

‘As one forum member put it: “They don’t want to be told what they are doing wrong. They only want the good news”.

‘It is quite impossible to imagine what it feels like to face this pattern of behaviour as an individual. Even going through the emails from this time has been upsetting. I remember saying, “you could just have told us to go away”.

‘Instead we were subjected to an eight or nine-month psychological torture of secrecy, obfuscation and misinformation.

‘This whole story highlights the failure of systems in place to protect employees and public engagement.

‘The values of respect, dignity, compassion and, most of all, trust have been so trampled that we need to know how this has happened so that restoration can take place.

‘Transparency is essential.’

The Health Care Forum reinvented itself as the Health and Care Group in 2019, and it continues to press for better public involvement with health and care services.

Contact the Argyllshire Advertiser in confidence if you have a story to tell by emailing: