The new Highland health chief has pledged a three-pronged approach to tackle the crisis-hit authority – with the bullying scandal at the top of his agenda.
Iain Stewart, who is originally from Stornoway and lives on the Black Isle, took up the £137,379-a-year chief executive post with NHS Highland three months ago.
In his first media interviews since the appointment, he acknowledged whistleblowing allegations from senior clinicians of a systemic bullying culture within the authority – currently under review in a QC-led inquiry with a report due within weeks.
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Mr Stewart told the Press and Journal he had three challenges: “Patient care, bullying claims and finance.”
He said: “We need to change as an organisation.
“We need to ensure there is no bullying. I will absolutely not tolerate it in this organisation.
“We have to ensure the right processes are in place for whistleblowing and we do the right things for our people.
“If staff are being bullied we have to get good pastoral care for them.”
The new chief executive said he “very much looks forward” to the findings of the independent review being carried out by Ian Sturrock QC into allegations of bullying and intimidation over the past decade – saying he has dealt with similar situations in previous jobs.
He added: “We have to get an understanding of what has happened in the past and look at the way forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We will build a plan to go forward to ensure that in future that we are an employer of choice and bullying will not be tolerate at all.”
NHS Highland has had its chairman David Alston and former chief executive Elaine Meade leave in recent months.
The incoming new chief said he wants all 10,500 employees to work in an environment they enjoy.
Mr Stewart said he has been meeting colleagues throughout the region since being appointed, with patient care and meeting treatment times being another top priority.
He will be travelling to Caithness later this week to hear about the concerns of patients having to travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for treatment – especially about the high number of pregnant mums having to make the long journey to give birth.
On finance, he revealed NHS Highland faced another shortfall of £17million on its budget which it will be seeking brokerage on for another year.
He added: “Within three years we need to ensure that goes down to zero deficit.”
Mr Stewart has 30 years of experience in the public sector and has held a number of senior positions within the NHS in England and Wales.
He was deputy chief of commissioning of the NHS Mid-Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Groups before getting the Highland job.
In this role, he is responsible for the leadership, operational management, and transformational improvement for a population of 320,000, with a revenue of £840 million.