Staff at a care home taken over by NHS Highland after 11 residents died of Covid claim they are being “bullied and intimidated”.
Home Farm Care Home in Skye was at the centre of a major investigation following the fatal outbreak at the height of the pandemic, and ultimately was taken over by NHS Highland from provider HC One in November 2020.
But 17 months on from the transfer, staff claim their contracts have not been finalised.
A group of staff members then approached the Press and Journal to highlight their concerns – they asked for their anonymity to be protected.
‘We feel like second-class workers’
They claimed: “Since NHS took over we have felt like second class workers – we feel as though we are just not good enough.
“Many staff feel like they are not wanted, and that NHS Highland would do almost anything to get rid of us.”
Staff acknowledged that for the majority of workers the new contracts offer enhanced terms and conditions. But due to eight members of the former HC One staff not being happy with the banding they have been graded to, the contracts for individuals have not been finalised.
One of the workers said: “If one person out of the former HC One staff does not sign the contract, then none of us will get it.
“It would not be a surprise if NHS Highland were trying to get rid of us. The way they are treating us is unfair, unethical and immoral.”
Another claimed: “Since NHS Highland has taken over we have been spoken down to on a daily basis and we have been treated as though we are stupid.
“Small issues that would normally have been dealt with in-house, are now escalated quickly to senior management to be dealt with. Staff feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells.”
One said: “We have worked through the pandemic, when our staff numbers were consistently below what they should have been.
“We have worked through the loss of our residents. We did not give up – and yet there is now no kindness shown towards us.”
‘No empathy being shown to us at all’
Another claimed: “We work in an environment where our job is to care for others, and to show compassion for others. But higher up management are not showing us any empathy at all.”
GMB Scotland organiser John McCartney said he had been in negotiation with NHS Highland over the Tupe transfer of staff.
He said: “This has been an extremely lengthy process which has undoubtedly caused some frustration with GMB members. However, there is no doubt that a transfer to NHS Highland terms and conditions is a benefit to the former HC One staff.
“GMB are also concerned that staff are feeling bullied and intimidated, and ask GMB members to contact the Inverness office if there are any issues they would like addressed.”
Fiona Hogg, NHS Highland’s director of people and culture, thanked staff saying they had worked in “exceedingly challenging circumstances throughout the pandemic”.
She said: “We are extremely grateful for their efforts in delivering high quality care to the residents in the home.
“We are very concerned to hear that some of our colleagues feel they are being treated unfairly.
‘We do not tolerate bullying or inappropriate behaviour’
“We do not tolerate bullying or inappropriate behaviour in any form and take these matters extremely seriously.
“We are working with service managers to ensure any concerns raised are being actively addressed and appropriate information about the transfer process is being shared and questions addressed.”
She pointed to the services in place to support staff members including the Guardian Service and trade union support.
Saying NHS Highland had worked closely with trade unions and individual staff members, she said: “This is a complex process underpinned by legal requirements and nationally set terms and conditions, and we are keen to help our colleagues navigate this smoothly.”
Committing to outlining the timescales to staff, and to offer question and answer sessions she said concerns would be “listened to and addressed”.
She added: “We are committed to working closely with our valued colleagues in Home Farm to ensure they feel supported in delivering high quality patient-centred care to the residents.
“We are sorry that some colleagues have found this process challenging to navigate and we are focused on improving their experience through working with management, HR and our trade union partners.”
Previous bullying claims led to change in NHS Highland
In April 2019, it was revealed that hundreds of staff working for NHS Highland had been victim to bullying and harassment.
After an wide-reaching inquiry, known as the Sturrock Report, the health board published a “healing process” plan to recover from the allegations and tackle the issues raised in an investigation.
The health board supported those who had been bullied with psychological therapy, counselling and trauma treatment.
Financial compensation was also paid for those whose lives and careers were impacted.
At a meeting in September 2021, the health board revealed that the service expects to pay £3.4 million in financial settlements.