Senior clinicians have called for action to end a “long-standing bullying culture” they claim is damaging patient care at a Scottish health board.
Medics at NHS Highland have highlighted what they insist are “serious concerns”, accusing bosses of suppressing criticism and creating a “culture of fear and intimidation”.
The problems have been going on “for at least a decade”, the doctors claimed, adding this has had a “serious detrimental effect on staff” as well as an “adverse effect on the quality of care we are able to provide for patients”.
The group raised their concerns in a letter to The Herald newspaper, insisting: “It is vital this bullying culture is exposed and finally now dealt with.”
The doctors spoke out a week after allegations of “systematic bullying” at NHS Tayside were raised at Holyrood, with Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar telling MSPs about the suicide of one trainee doctor as a result.
The four NHS Highland doctors who signed the letter said they had done so to “make clear our serious concerns around the long-standing bullying culture that exists within the health board where we work”.
They 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.”
They added that the imminent departure of NHS Highland chief executive Elaine Mead meant they felt “now is the time to speak out and ensure effective action can be taken”.
The doctors who signed the letter are Eileen Anderson, chairwoman of the area medical committee, its vice chairwoman Lorien Cameron-Ross, Jonathan Ball, chairman of the GP subcommittee and Highland local medical committee chairman, and Iain Kennedy of the GP subcommittee.
They said: “This is the moment that this has to change. We urgently need fresh leadership at NHS Highland to take the brave and extensive actions required to ensure NHS Highland is a safe, positive place to work, based on a culture of openness, transparency, learning and honesty.
“That is the only way that we will be able to guarantee a safe environment, delivering high quality care for patients for the future.”
Dr Kennedy told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that a “culture of fear” existed in parts of NHS Highland.
“Doctors and nurses and some managers have told us that when they raise concerns they felt intimidated and marginalised,” he said.
“And ultimately this bullying culture is bad for patients. If doctors and nurses don’t feel able to speak up there is a risk to patient safety.
“Also it’s not having a good impact on recruitment and retention of clinical staff in the Highlands and we struggle to recruit people.”