The man in charge of good staff management relations at the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership has spoken out about bullying he himself claims he faced at the organisation.
Sandy Wilkie, 57, told BBC Scotland that the experience led to depression and being signed off work for four months.
He said he returned to work to be told his role no longer existed.
He now expects to receive a settlement from NHS Highland, which is part of the partnership and set up a “healing process” to deal with bullying claims.
Mr Wilkie told The Herald newspaper that the organisation was an “absolute nest of vipers”.
Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership said the health and wellbeing of its staff was a priority.
The partnership involves Argyll and Bute Council and NHS Highland.
Allegations of bullying raised in 2018 at NHS Highland were the subject of a review led by John Sturrock QC, with the focus on examining issues raised by staff working in the Highlands.
The results of the review, published last year, suggested hundreds of health workers had potentially experienced inappropriate behaviour at the health board.
In May this year, NHS Highland offered staff who experienced bullying an “independent healing process” for handling their concerns.
Also this year, Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership surveyed staff about bullying. Of the 1,500 staff surveyed, 508 responded, with 68% of them saying they had experienced bullying and harassment.
Mr Wilkie is the first of current and former NHS Highland employees to have his case reviewed as a result of NHS Highland’s healing process.
He joined Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership as NHS Highland’s head of human resources in the area in October 2017.
He had more than 20 years’ experience and had left Bolton NHS Foundation Trust to take up the job in Argyll and Bute.
Mr Wilkie said he had thought it would be the “dream job” in a “beautiful area”, but it turned a “bizarre experience” when he encountered bullying by some senior managers.
He said: “The first year things went really, really well and then around the summer of 2018 I started seeing some rather unusual behaviours.”
Mr Wilkie said his decisions were undermined and people were removed from his team.
He said: “I felt that my own values were crossed. People who I could previously trust I could no longer trust. It damaged my mental health.”
The strain led to him being signed off work and prescribed anti-depressants.
Mr Wilkie said he returned to work in February 2019 to be told his role no longer existed. He said the decision to do this had not followed HR policy.
While still working at the partnership, Mr Wilkie said he was intentionally “overloaded” and was then placed on special leave for six months during a period of reorganisations, before being made redundant.
Mr Wilkie, who now lives and works in the north of England, said his experience took a toll on his personal life and his partner at the time.
Following changes at senior level at NHS Highland, Mr Wilkie said he believed there would be positive changes at the health board.
He is the latest employee at the Argyll and Bute partnership to speak out about bullying.
In September, a doctor said she was bullied before losing her job after raising concerns about the closure of Argyll’s only dementia assessment unit.
Dr Jan Calder was a locum consultant psychiatrist with Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership.
She said matters “turned sour” after she challenged the closure of the Knapdale Ward in Lochgilphead.
The partnership declined to comment on Dr Calder’s case, but said it treated bullying “very seriously”.
Following Mr Wilkie’s allegations, Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership said there was support available to staff.
Chief officer Joanna Macdonald said: “The health and well-being of staff is a priority for the organisation and earlier this year we established the healing process which enables former and current employees to access an independent team of external advisers to discuss their concerns about their experience of bullying and harassment.
“This is in addition to launching an Employee Assistance Programme and external Speak Up Guardian service for employees.
“Due to staff confidentiality it would not be appropriate for us to comment on individual employees either past or present who have participated in this process.”
She said that following the results of its staff survey, the partnership had 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”.
Bullying claims timeline
- 26 September 2018: A group of senior clinicians at NHS Highland speak out about what they claim to be a culture of bullying at the health board. The doctors say that for at least a decade there has been a “practice of suppressing criticism, which emanates from the very top of the organisation”
- 2 October: NHS Highland seeks a resolution to the allegations through a meeting with the clinicians, but the doctors call for the matter to go to a public inquiry
- 5 November: Health Secretary Jeane Freeman requests an independent external investigation to examine allegations of bullying within NHS Highland
- 23 November: John Sturrock QC appointed to lead an independent review of the allegations
- 9 May 2019: Independent review report published
- May 2020: NHS Highland offers employees a “healing process” Current and former employees have been given four options, which include “being heard”, an apology and access to psychological therapies. They can also opt to have their case heard by an independent review panel. Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership also publishes a staff survey. 508 staff responded with 68% of them saying they had experienced bullying and harassment
- September 2020: A doctor says she was bullied before losing her job after raising concerns about the closure of Argyll’s only dementia assessment unit. Dr Jan Calder was a locum consultant psychiatrist with Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership.