Agenda: Creating a safe space for NHS Highland staff to tell their stories

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By Pam Dudek

IN the months since I became chief executive of NHS Highland, I’ve been developing my vision of creating a compassionate and inclusive organisation where people feel their voices are being heard. As part of this journey, it’s essential to admit past mistakes and tackle underlying issues, which is where the Healing Process – set-up to address the findings of the Sturrock Report – comes in.

The Sturrock Report, published in May 2019 and led by John Sturrock QC, identified historic bullying and harassment within NHS Highland, affecting employees in Highland and Argyll and Bute. Our board has apologised profusely for these issues and deeply regrets they ever occurred.

I believe we have moved forward since the report was published. A key part of this progress is the Healing Process, along with a range of other activities – such as Wellbeing Wednesday, employee assistance and the introduction of our guardian service – that are designed to improve our culture.

In partnership with the Scottish Government, whistleblowers and other stakeholders, we co-created the Healing Process and launched it last spring. The service is run by a professional team of independent advisers who manage and support individuals to find the most suitable solution for them. Options include access to the Independent Review Panel (IRP); one-to-one discussions (held remotely); formal apologies and independent psychological therapies.

Since this unique service was launched more than 200 people have registered. I have heard how important it has been for those who suffered harm to be able to tell their personal stories – in a confidential and safe space – to the IRP. This feedback is testament to the great work the whistleblowers, along with all the partners, did in establishing a service that addresses deep-seated issues and helps people heal.

Setting up a service as complex at the Healing Process is obviously not straightforward and can encounter challenges along the way, and one of those was around tax and national insurance (NI). Therefore, we recently welcomed the decision from HMRC that the majority of participants in the Healing Process will not have to pay tax or NI on payments received because most will be made due to harm suffered, not loss of earnings while in employment. Only payments made for loss of earnings while employed at NHS Highland are subject to tax.

We have apologised for any confusion and further hurt caused as a result of the tax implications of the Healing Process payments not being highlighted earlier, and for making payments before obtaining clarification from HMRC.

And we are committed to using all learnings from the Healing Process to make our organisation better for our employees. The NHS Highland board – quite rightly – does not have access to personal information given to the Healing Process, but the IRP is producing reports that can help us find new ways to further improve our culture.

I would encourage anyone who feels they could benefit from the Healing Process to register before the closing date of February 26. And I would again like to thank everyone we collaborated with to co-design the service.

Pam Dudek is NHS Highland chief executive

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