Cultural issues related to allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland: independent review report

An independent review report looking at cultural issues related to allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland by John Sturrock, QC and mediator.

5. Creating a Safe Space for Confidential Discussions


5.1. In fulfilling the remit, in December 2018 and January 2019, this review has enabled a total of 186 individuals to express their views personally on a one to one basis or in a group setting.

5.2. In total, I met with 53 individuals on a one to one private and confidential basis and spoke to another 8 on the telephone, usually at some length. As the number of responses greatly exceeded that which was initially expected, two senior colleagues, Charlie Woods and Liz Rivers, assisted me by conducting further meetings. Between them, they conducted a further 27 private meetings with individuals and reported on each of these to me.

5.3. We also met a further 98 individuals in group settings, with groups ranging in size from 2 to 18.

5.4. In addition to the meetings discussed above, I also received 96 submissions in writing from people whom we did not meet, both in detail and simply by email correspondence. Many of those with whom we met also submitted detailed further written submissions.

5.5. In total, therefore, of the 340 approaches we received, my colleagues and I engaged with 282 respondents directly and in written form.

The Meetings Themselves

5.6. We conducted most of our meetings in a hotel in Inverness which provided an independent and discreet location, where we worked hard to avoid overlap or any embarrassment for those attending. I also conducted meetings at NHSH headquarters at Assynt House, at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, and in a rural community.

5.7. I regret that, in the time available, I was not able to travel to other locations or to engage with more people at their places of work. However, most people wished to meet outside of their workplace in any event. Many travelled a distance to meet me. Given the number of meetings, and constraints on time, meeting in the way we did was the most efficient way to use time.

5.8. Our approach in meetings was to encourage people to speak candidly and frankly about their experiences - and to listen without judgment to what they wished to tell us. Each meeting lasted for about an hour, some taking a bit longer, others less. We asked questions to clarify certain matters and to understand more deeply what each person had experienced and was concerned about. Where it was relevant to do so, we asked about ways forward in the future. Again, where necessary, we carefully challenged conclusions or inferences drawn.

5.9. I was aware that, for many people, being able to tell their story to someone face to face was important to them and that having someone independent and impartial to listen was also very important. For some, it was cathartic. For others, there was a sense of obligation in trying to ensure that what had happened to them did not happen to others; for yet others, stepping forward now eased the pain of the guilt they felt about not having spoken up before. For some, it was an opportunity to make sure I heard all sides of the story.

5.10. I am aware of course that, for many people, speaking up and speaking out is not easy to do. Many of those who approached me have not spoken before and many were anxious about doing so. Indeed, I was struck by the level of fear that some respondents exhibited about participating (in any way) with the review and their perceptions of the possible adverse consequences of doing so. Taking part was all the more commendable.

5.11. Some of the meetings were difficult and emotional for the individuals concerned, for a variety of reasons. I am aware that many people confided in me in a way that they had not done with anyone else. For these reasons, I have only referred to specific examples when I have received specific permission to do so. Otherwise, and generally, I made clear that views expressed would be reflected in the report in an entirely non-attributable way.

5.12. The relief felt by many was expressed by one respondent in these words:

"I feel I've told someone. I praise the bravery of the colleagues who made this an issue and opening the door for me to finally say how I felt. At least I feel less alone, thanks for hearing me out."

Feedback about Meetings

5.13. This response is mirrored in anonymous feedback which we obtained through a questionnaire sent out by email after the one to one meetings to all those with whom we met:

  • 96% said they felt listened to in the meetings
  • 89% found the meeting useful
  • 97% found that the atmosphere was conducive to a frank conversation
  • 91% felt able to express all concerns and points of view
  • 76% said the meeting had given them confidence in the independent review process and
  • 75% felt that the meeting itself had helped them process their experiences.

5.14. In the anonymous feedback for meetings of groups, 92% of those who attended group meetings expressed the view that the meetings had been useful while 100% said the atmosphere was conducive to a frank conversation, that they felt listened to and that they felt able to express all of their concerns and points of view.

5.15. I am sure that a mere electronic feedback process has limitations (and some respondents observed, for example, that confidence in the review could only come later) but these results offer some reassurance that the approach was worthwhile for many of those who participated.



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