COUNCIL staff are being left out of efforts to tackle a culture of bullying in the area’s health and social care partnership, a former Helensburgh social worker has claimed.

Melani Erlank told the Advertiser she did not have access to an independent reviewing panel set up by NHS Highland to have her story heard – because she was not employed by the health board but by Argyll and Bute Council.

Ms Erlank was awarded almost £27,000 for unfair dismissal earlier this year after she took the local authority to an employment tribunal.

She had been sacked by the council in September 2019 following a long-running dispute in which she claimed to have been bullied by her manager.

The tribunal found that the local authority allowed the issue to “fester” for years, with senior managers “supportive” of the manager while having “no will” to help Ms Erlank.

READ MORE: Health board accepts bullying report recommendations as review panel continues

Last month two damning reports were published into the way the Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership (HSCP) dealt with employees’ concerns at the way they were being treated by management.

NHS Highland set up an independent reviewing panel (IRP) to listen to employees’ experiences of bullying as part of an initiative known as the Healing Process.

Ms Erlank said: “I have registered for the Healing Process but have now been informed that I do not have access to the Independent Reviewing Panel to have my story heard because I was not employed by NHS Highland.

“This is even though health and social care are integrated.

“Social care staff’s voices were not heard when the Culture Review was conducted in February 2020, raising huge concerns about NHS Highland staff experiencing bullying at work, and now again, social care staff’s voices will not be heard and incorporated into the IRP’s reports and recommendations.

READ MORE: 'Long way to go to tackle HSCP culture of bullying'

“The focus remains on NHS Highland but the scope needs to be widened to fully incorporate Argyll and Bute HSCP if the Healing Process is to have any chance of success.”

An NHS Highland spokesman said: “Our actions to address issues of culture and behaviour do apply across both NHS Highland and the whole HSCP including access to the Speak Up Guardian service and participation in our local culture group, consisting of volunteers from all parts of the HSCP.

“As we move forward with a programme of regular culture surveys, we will be including all Argyll and Bute HSCP colleagues, reflecting our integrated system and ways of working. We have just completed the contracts for the tool we will be using and we will be updating the IJB [Integration Joint Board] and the NHS Highland board at their next meetings on the timelines for the first survey, as well as a progress update on our wider culture programme and the plans for the year ahead.

“We continue to actively listen to and learn from what our colleagues are telling us about their experience, our actions are clearly informed by all these insights, which come from across the diverse geography and range of roles and professions who make up our health and social care workforce in Highland and Argyll and Bute.”