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The Scottish Government has committed more than £1m to compensate victims of bullying and harassment at a troubled health board.
The money will be available to NHS Highland to claim back for any pay-out it has to make to staff as part of a so-called “healing process” launched by the board.
“I hope this will mean the system will be more robust and able to give those coming forward confidence”
Last year, an independent review led by John Sturrock QC found that out of 340 staff his team had spoken to, 66% had reported experiences of bullying.
Mr Sturrock also found that the board’s speaking-up system was ineffective.
Since the report came to light, David Stewart, MSP for Highlands and Islands, has been lobbying the government and the board over various issues on behalf of victims.
Earlier this month, he lodged a parliamentary question asking the government how much additional funding would be given to the health board to facilitate its healing process.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman has since confirmed that Holyrood was committing more than £1m.
She said: “Accordingly a maximum of £1,030,000 will be made available to NHS Highland in the period to 31 March 2021.
“This will support the delivery of NHS Highland’s healing process commitments.”
Mr Stewart, who is also shadow public health minister for Labour, said it was good that the government “finally” revealed this substantial figure.
He added: “I realise that Covid-19 will be extremely challenging for the health authority at this moment, but the fact that the government has moved to help fund this process will be of some comfort to current and former staff and will hopefully cover claims for compensation.
“I hope this will mean the system will be more robust and able to give those coming forward confidence that it will be independent from the health authority and able to look anew at each individual case.”
Previously, Mr Stewart asked several parliamentary questions which revealed that the health board did not initially approach the government for help with funding.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said its position “could not be clearer” that bullying and harassment is unacceptable.
They said: “Everything must be done to eradicate it, and all reported incidents must be appropriately and robustly investigated.
“Bullying or harassment in any form will not be tolerated within the organisation”
NHS Highland spokesperson
“The Scottish Government has confirmed that financial provision to support NHS Highland’s culture commitments, specifically the implementation of a dedicated healing process, will be made available in accordance with NHS Highland’s financial request.
“Funding will be made available on the basis of actual expenditure in connection with the delivery of this programme of work.”
A spokesperson from NHS Highland said they were pleased to receive the funding to ensure a “sensitive, professional and robust process” for the independent handling of past claims.
“We will be closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on our employees, services and the wider community before moving ahead with the launch of the healing process.
“Funding has enabled a professional team to be put in place to support the process with independent advisers, including human resources, legal, communication and mediation specialists, to ensure the entire process is managed sensitively and independently.”
More detail on the healing process would be provided in “due course”, the spokesperson noted.
They added: “We would like to reiterate that we were deeply saddened by the findings of the Sturrock Report indicating that some individuals felt bullied or harassed while working for NHS Highland.
“We have taken a number of steps over the past 12 months to work towards putting things right. Bullying or harassment in any form will not be tolerated within the organisation.”
More on the bullying inquiry: