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Government backs independent inquiry into NHS ‘bullying’ accusations by GPs

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman has requested an independent external investigation after GP leaders raised concerns about a bullying culture within NHS Highland.

Senior doctors leaders, including members of Highland LMC, had pressed for an independent inquiry after the health board repeatedly dismissed their ‘serious concerns’.

Dr Iain Kennedy, one of the signatories to a statement issued by members of the LMC and area medical committee, said he had tried to address bullying with the health board in 2011 but was marginalised for doing so.

More recently, efforts to cover up a report on governance and refusal to raise BMA professional advisory group members’ concerns at a board meeting, prompted a group of doctors to go to the press.

The whistleblowing doctors leaders have now collected written statements from 120 staff, including some GPs, who have been victims of the bullying culture which ‘came from the top’.

They believe there are many more who want to speak up but are afraid until a truly independent inquiry is in place.

In the statement, the doctors, who also include Dr Jonathan Ball, chair of Highland LMC, said: ‘It is our belief that, for at least a decade, this practice of suppressing criticism, which emanates from the very top of the organisation, has led to a culture of fear and intimidation. 

‘This has had a serious detrimental effect on staff at all levels of NHS Highland, but equally importantly, has had an adverse effect on the quality of care we are able to provide for patients.’

Dr Kennedy, who is medical secretary of Highland LMC, told Pulse that a meeting with Government representatives to discuss the concerns had been ‘very very helpful’ and they had been reassured that an independent inquiry would be put in place.

‘We are beginning to wonder why we tolerated this for so long,’ he said.

 dr iain kennedy highland lmc 1

dr iain kennedy highland lmc 1

‘We need to prove to the public that the statement we made is true and that there is a huge body of evidence of systemic bullying going back ten years.

‘This information has been suppressed by NHS Highland and it needs to come out.’

A recent report from the BMA found 40% of doctors believe bullying is a problem in their workplace.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We welcome that NHS Highland have recognised the importance of fully addressing this issue, and the need for an independent process to fully investigate the matter.

‘The welfare of NHS staff is paramount, and any claims of bullying in the workplace must be treated with the utmost seriousness.’ 

They added: ‘Health secretary Jeane Freeman has requested that an independent external investigation be established to examine these issues in NHS Highland and seek resolutions.’

In a statement, David Alston, chair of NHS Highland said: ‘In view of the situation we find ourselves in, it would not be in the board’s interest to now attempt to manage this on our own.  

‘The board has said all along that we have nothing to hide and, therefore, in order to understand and address the underlying issues, we would welcome external input to determine what is required.’