HEALTH and social care staff in Helensburgh have written to Scotland’s health secretary pleading for an independent inquiry into bullying and harassment concerns across Argyll and Bute.

Eight current or former employees of the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) told Jeane Freeman that they have “serious bullying and harassment concerns” at the organisation.

They want Ms Freeman to act on the recommendation of top QC John Sturrock, who carried an independent investigation into allegations of a bullying culture at NHS Highland in 2018-19, and who recommended a separate independent review into the functioning of management in Argyll and Bute.

The Advertiser understands six of those current or former HSCP employees live or work, or lived or worked, in the Helensburgh area.

The letter to Ms Freeman has also been signed by Helensburgh’s MP, Brendan O’Hara, and MSP Jackie Baillie.

The HSCP commissioned a ‘culture survey’ in February in which two-thirds of the 446 staff who took part said they had had direct or indirect experience of bullying at work.

But the signatories to the letter say that is not enough – and that only an independent review, by someone outside of Argyll and Bute, will address their concerns properly.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute HSCP says sorry to staff over bullying at work

The letter states: “We have exhausted all avenues at our disposal to try and get Argyll and Bute to launch an independent review/investigation. Requesting your intervention would not have been necessary if management were open to a full exploration of the issues.”

Among the signatories is Dr Jan Calder, who lives in Helensburgh and who worked as a locum consultant psychiatrist in Mid Argyll until her contract was ended by the HSCP in July.

Dr Calder said she had been “turfed out” after publicly opposing a redesign of dementia services in Mid Argyll and voicing concern at the process involved.

She told the Advertiser: “I blew the whistle in July last year, and within three weeks there was a spurious complaint made against me.

“It was claimed that I’d been seen getting my hair done in work time – I didn’t, I got it done on my day off – and there were claims that I’d spent too much time with some patients and not enough time with others.

“I didn’t realise it for months, but I had been bullied. I took on senior management in early July 2019, and at the end of July they turfed me out.

“They could let me go at a week’s notice because I was working as a locum, and they did.”

Last week the Advertiser’s sister title, The Herald, interviewed Dr Calder and a former HR manager at the HSCP, Sandy Wilkie, who said he had become depressed and had been off work for four months after being bullied at work.

READ MORE: Former Argyll and Bute HR manager says HSCP bullying drove him to depression

Dr Calder added: “This is not about ‘poor me’. Douglas Philand [councillor for Mid Argyll, who has also signed the letter to Ms Freeman], Sandy Wilkie and myself have had, I think, up to 10 people approach us since last week with stories about ongoing difficulties they are having with managers and the management culture within the HSCP.

“A mature organisation can work with people who disagree. I felt that if you didn’t agree with management in Argyll and Bute, you were out.”

Brendan O’Hara MP said: “I believe it stretches credibility to the limit for NHS Highland, Argyll and Bute Council and the HSCP to now to claim that John Sturrock’s recommendation that “a separate review in and about the functioning management in Argyll and Bute should be commenced” could be met by having a market research company carry out a staff survey.

“Of course, the staff survey may well have a role to play in identifying behaviours, and may help employees highlight instances of bullying and harassment.

"But it does not and cannot possibly meet the remit laid down by John Sturrock of properly reviewing “the functioning management in Argyll and Bute”."

Jackie Baillie MSP added: “The reports of bullying, intimidation and harassment of employees within Argyll and Bute’s HSCP are deeply worrying and must be addressed.

"I was happy to add my name to this letter. I had already written to Jeane Freeman, urging her to ensure that an external investigation is carried out so that justice can be served for these employees.”

READ MORE: NHS to hold Argyll and Bute 'culture review' over workplace bullying

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “An independent review to explore workplace cultures in Argyll and Bute has been carried out.

“The outputs of this review, which responds to recommendations made in the Sturrock Review, have been shared with leadership of the Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership, as well as NHS Highland, so they may identify any issues relating to the day-to-day management or service provision in Argyll and Bute and the general workings of the HSCP.

“While it would not be appropriate for us to comment on individual cases, the Cabinet Secretary is taking a close interest in this and considering whether any further action is required.”

Joanna Macdonald, the HSCP’s chief officer, said: “It was recommended in the Sturrock Report to carry out a review of culture within Argyll and Bute and this took place earlier this year.

"The findings from this review were published in May and we offered a sincere apology to colleagues who had indicated that they had experienced bullying and harassment and we immediately put in place a 100-day action plan to address the key findings in addition to our existing culture programme activity.

“It is therefore very disappointing that there are continued requests for a further review when the two reviews have already confirmed the issues that we need to address and we have already put in place a range of actions and interventions to deal with these.

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“It is important that our focus and energy remains on rectifying the issues raised and improving the culture, rather than conducting further reviews which may delay us providing some closure for staff who are the most important people in this whole issue.

"The HSCP is committed to an independent progress review in spring 2021, which will include all health and social care staff within the HSCP, and this will enable recognition of the progress made and those areas requiring further improvement.”

“The health and wellbeing of our workforce remains a priority and we are committed to a zero tolerance approach to bullying and any issues raised will be thoroughly investigated through the appropriate HR processes.

"Former NHS Highland employees who believe harm has been done to them have access to an independent Healing Process and a number of staff have participated in this already.

"This is in addition to launching an Employee Assistance Programme and confidential Guardian 'Speak Up' service for employees, which is also independent.

“It would not be appropriate for us to comment on individual employees, either past or present.”

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