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'Bullied' NHS staff to find out how complaints dealt with

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman will respond to findings of an independent inquiry.

NHS: Staff will find out how complaints will be dealth with.
NHS: Staff will find out how complaints will be dealth with.

By Iain Ramage.

Hundreds of staff allegedly bullied while working for NHS Highland will learn today how the Scottish Government will deal with the complaints.

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman will respond to the recommendations of QC John Sturrock's independent inquiry with a statement to MSPs this afternoon.

She acknowledged during a trip to Inverness last month that there had been a major bullying problem over a period of more than a decade.

Four whistleblower clinicians highlighted the problem eight months ago - while others had done so years earlier.

The health board, which has had numerous top-level departures in recent months, last year denied overseeing a "systematic culture of bullying".

STV News has learned more than 350 individual current and former staff submitted evidence to Mr Sturrock's inquiry over recent months.

Its findings had been inexplicably delayed.

Since a team of four senior staff went public with the allegations a year ago, a number of complainants spoke of contemplating suicide.

Several families, who did not wish to be identified, believe the suicides of relatives who worked for NHS Highland were directly linked to stress they had cited as a result of alleged bullying at work.

A former manager, who did not wish to be named, said he contemplated suicide. He described the whistle-blowing bombshell as "NHS Highland's 'Me Too moment'."

Now retired, he said he had quit on medical advice after suffering ill health due to "vicious" treatment by his superiors.

Many staff have spoken of a culture of "fear and intimidation" within NHS Highland.

The health board has not had its troubles to seek in recent years.

It continues to face severe budgetary pressures and long running complaints from mothers-to-be in Caithness having to make a last-minute trek to Raigmore Hospital - more than 100 miles south in Inverness - due to a gap in local maternity services.

The four clinicians - doctors Eileen Anderson, Lorien Cameron-Ross, Jonathan Ball and Iain Kennedy - have spoken of "high turnovers" of staff at Raigmore and at the Belford Hospital in Fort William due to the bullying allegations.

In recent months, NHS Highland chief executive Elaine Mead, chairman David Alston and medical director Dr Rod Harvey were all been replaced.

Dr Harvey had said shortly after the allegations surfaced that he did not recognise a "bullying culture".

In response to the claims, the board set up a confidential helpline for people to report any complaints.

A former senior manager said he had previously blown the whistle on a bullying culture within NHS Highland but claimed no action was taken.

Speaking last October, Mike Evans, a chartered accountant and former non-executive board member, said: "I was made aware of allegations of bullying roughly six years ago."

Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Ed Mountain, who has been highly vocal on the issue, told STV News prior to today's ministerial statement : "What's important is to identify the issue and to come up with some immediate solutions - and long term solutions - to enable us to rebuild NHS Highland."

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans.

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