NHS Scotland (Bullying)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd June 2022.

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Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of reports that incidents of bullying in NHS Scotland have risen by nearly 50 per cent in five years. (S6F-01255)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Bullying is always unacceptable. We want people to have available in health boards avenues to raise any experiences or concerns that they have.

In 2020, a new bullying policy was introduced to ensure that more support was available. The Government also commissioned John Sturrock QC to review the culture in NHS Highland, in particular. One outcome of that was the establishment of a ministerial working group to examine the issues of culture more broadly. That work was impacted by Covid.

However, I can confirm that we are now developing a new national leadership development programme so that the health, social work and social care sectors can carry that work on, and to help to foster an open, welcoming and supportive culture in the national health service, whereby all staff are valued and treated with dignity and respect.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

The picture is particularly alarming in the north-east, with reported cases having tripled in NHS Tayside and doubled in NHS Grampian. Those cases will have had a deeply damaging effect on the mental health of staff at a time when recruitment and retention are endemic issues in our NHS.

The First Minister mentioned the Sturrock review. What assessment has been made of whether lessons from the Sturrock review of bullying in NHS Highland have been implemented by health boards? What urgent steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that health boards foster an open and tolerant workplace culture in the future?

The First Minister:

Before I come back to the very serious issue that has been raised, I acknowledge that recruitment is a challenge in the NHS, as it is in many parts of our public services and, indeed, our economy more generally. One of the reasons why recruitment is such a challenge—it is appropriate to say this, because it is six years to the day since the Brexit referendum—is Brexit and the ending of free movement, for example. The issues that we are discussing should remind us all of that folly. I hope that Conservatives, in particular, are reminded of it.

On bullying in the national health service, we should all be very clear that bullying is unacceptable. It has no place anywhere, and it certainly has no place in the NHS. As politicians, we should unite to send that message loudly and clearly.

On the specific question that was asked about John Sturrock’s review of cultural issues in NHS Highland, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care asked all health boards to consider the recommendations, to review their internal assurance mechanisms and to advise the Government of actions that they had taken. We will continue to monitor progress on that closely. As I said in my original answer, we are also developing a new national leadership development programme, which we will launch later this year.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

In the previous session of the Parliament, the First Minister’s Government agreed to debate the Sturrock report. In fact, it also agreed to do so in the current session of the Parliament. Does the First Minister think that the fact that the Government has not debated the Sturrock report has not helped to tackle bullying in the NHS, and that she should now fulfil her promise and provide time for the report to be debated, as she has undertaken to do twice before?

The First Minister:

I am certainly happy to consider giving Government time for that. Of course, Opposition parties can choose to debate any issue that they want to debate in their time.

It is important that we have vigorous and robust debate on such issues in the Parliament, but it is as important that we ensure that the recommendations from John Sturrock’s review are actually implemented. That is why the work that I referred to in my earlier answer is so important.

Such issues matter. It is vital for everybody who works in our NHS that it has a culture that supports them—not one that in any way allows them to be bullied or intimidated. John Sturrock’s recommendations will certainly help to ensure that that is the case.