Health chiefs snub anti-bullying event on their doorstep

NHS Lothian is based at Waverley Gate. Picture: Jayne Wright
NHS Lothian is based at Waverley Gate. Picture: Jayne Wright
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LOTHIAN health chiefs who oversaw a culture of bullying in the NHS have been slammed after they failed to send a single delegate to a major whistle-blowing conference on their doorstep.

The Scotland Patients 
Association held an event at the Royal College of Surgeons headquarters in Nicolson Street yesterday – a ten-minute, 500 metre stroll from NHS Lothian’s headquarters in Waverley Gate.

But while the event was attended by Health Secretary Alex Neil, the British Medical Association, delegates from the Royal College of Nursing and a string of senior figures from health boards across Scotland, it was shunned by NHS Lothian.

The conference, which aimed to encourage responsible attitudes to health staff who raise concerns about issues such as patient care and staff bullying, followed a damning report into the culture at NHS Lothian, published last year.

Margaret Watt, chair of the Glasgow-based Scotland Patients Association, said the no-show “spoke volumes” about the health board.

She said: “I think it shows they don’t care. If they did care about staff they would have had someone here.

“If they couldn’t have afforded it, I would have gladly paid for them to come. It was important to be here and hear what other people had to say.

“We are hugely disappointed given that we have taken the trouble to come to Edinburgh. It’s a sleight on us.”

In the Bowles Report, published in May 2012, it was found that an “undermining, intimidating, demeaning, threatening and hostile working environment” existed in parts of NHS Lothian.

The report said the health board’s motto “the Lothian way” had been dubbed “the bullying way” by some staff.

The unhealthy culture was blamed for the waiting times scandal, where waiting lists were manipulated to hit targets, as staff were discouraged from bringing bad news to 
senior managers.

In the wake of the bullying and waiting times scandals, former chief executive James Barbour retired and disciplinary action was taken against a small number of staff.

Tim Davison was brought in as a replacement, and it has been claimed that good progress has been made in tackling cultural issues under his leadership, with initiatives including a review of managers’ capabilities and work on a new set of values for the health board. The Scottish Government has also set up a confidential whistle-blowing helpline for NHS staff north of the border.

But Dr Jean Turner, a former MSP and director of the Scotland Patients Association, said that NHS Lothian should have been in attendance at the conference given its recent history.

She added: “It’s up to health board officials to make it their business to find out how things are. Maybe they feel they have done enough navel-gazing and have now got things right.”

Stuart Wilson, director of communications and public affairs at NHS Lothian, defended the board. He said: “NHS Lothian is committed to involving patients, staff and the public in shaping our services and we value constructive input from patient organisations.”