NHS Highland expects to pay over £3.4 million to staff subjected to ‘long-standing bullying culture’

NHS Highland expects to pay more than £3.4 million to staff affected by bullying, a report has revealed.

The health board was heavily criticised after an investigation in 2019 found hundreds of NHS staff across the Highlands may have endured inappropriate behaviour.

The Sturrock review found a “significant majority” of the 340 people it spoke to were either currently experiencing, or had suffered in the past, fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour at work.

The Scottish Government-commissioned review was sparked by claims in 2018 from a group of whistleblowing senior NHS Highland medics that a “long-standing bullying culture” at the health board was damaging patient care.

In response to the Sturrock review, NHS Highland set up a “healing process” under which a new report has shown the health board has paid out £2.063 million to 150 people so far.

Two of these awards are for an amount between £60,000 and £95,000, with six costing between £30,000 and £60,000 each.

A total of 46 people have been approved for payments of between £500 and £5,000, 61 for between £5,000 and £15,000 and 35 for between £15,000 and £30,000.

The report, an update on the healing process by People and Culture Director Fiona Hogg, was among papers due to be discussed at NHS Highland’s board meeting on Tuesday.

It details 293 active participants in the process and 177 cases have been completed, with 107 still to go before the independent review panel.

Up to August 9, the health board’s remuneration committee has approved 150 recommendations for payment from the review panel, as well as 27 cases where no payment was requested or recommended.

The report states the health board accounted for current and future liabilities of £4.2million for the financial payments.

“Based on the payments to date and cases remaining, our current modelling suggests the total cost of the payments would be in the region of £3.415m, so the funding provided by the Scottish Government should be sufficient to cover this,” it continues.

“The reduction in costs expected is due to regular revision of the average payments following each remuneration committee and a reduction in the number of participants as some people have withdrawn.”

Four options are included in the healing process: being heard; an apology; access to psychological therapies; and access to an independent review panel. Those taking part can choose more than one.

A total of 205 people taking part in the healing process have been have referred to therapy service, the report adds, and a high proportion of those where details can be reported are “achieving recovery or making substantial progress”.

The chief executive has made 85 written apologies, with a further 10 requests for apology not recommended by the review panel as appropriate, or not seen as able to “aid their healing”.

The independent review panel recommended redeployment in three cases.

The panels and associated reports are scheduled to be completed at the end of June 2022.

An NHS Highland spokeswoman 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.

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