HMRC: NHS Highland wrong to tax bullying payouts


Victims of bullying at NHS Highland should not have had tax taken off their compensation payments, HMRC has ruled.


NHS Highland’s chief executive has apologised for the confusion and upset, and the board says it will now refund anyone whose payment under the board’s Healing Process should not have been taxed.


Pam Dudek admitted that in retrospect it would have been better to ask HMRC for clarity before the compensation scheme went live.


One former social worker told how their award following a multitude of mental problems that left them unable to work was almost halved.


In a further twist, because the money was classed as earnings, their benefits were stopped.


Problems revolve around the Healing Process, which was set up to help current and former employees after an independent report by John Sturrock QC exposed “fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour” at the health board.


A series of solutions are available under the process, including a formal apology, psychological support and, for the most serious cases, compensation.


The board had previously defended its position in the face of criticism, arguing payments had to be subjected to tax because they were paid through the payroll system.


However, in December NHS Highland admitted the issue had not been fully considered when the Healing Process was drawn up and asked HMRC to rule on the issue. HMRC had not previously been approached.


The tax authorities have told the board said any payout relating to healing and harm should not be taxed, which NHS Highland said was the ‘vast majority’.


Non-taxable payments will now be paid by bank transfer rather than through payroll, the board added, with it made clear in advance whether any part of an award relates to loss of earnings and still subject to PAYE.


Local politicians who have campaigned on behalf of victims said the U-turn was a victory for common sense but questioned why the health board had not acted sooner.


Highlands Labour MSP David Stewart said the news would be a “great relief to those being awarded money for the bullying and harassment they’ve endured.”


“Constituents have been writing to tell me the huge amount of tax they have had to pay, sometimes on a relatively small amount of compensation.


“That has not only caused them further upset and harm, but in some cases has disrupted their benefit or pension payments.”


Local Conservative MSP Edward Mountain criticised “faulty advice and slow decision making”.


“This tax fiasco could have been avoided from the beginning had NHS Highland raised this issue with HMRC earlier,” he said.


“This would have spared bullying victims from a lot of additional pain, hurt and financial worries.”


NHS Highland Chief Executive Pam Dudek said: “We welcome the HMRC decision that the vast majority of Healing Process payments will not be subject to tax.


“And we sincerely apologise for upset and harm caused by the initial confusion on what the tax situation would be for this unique service.


“While we sought in good faith to make payments as quickly as possible once recommendations had been approved, in retrospect, delaying payment while we sought clarification from HMRC might have been advisable.


“We are pleased that participants in the process now have clarity, and we would encourage others who qualify to register with the service designed to help them heal.


“We have been unequivocal in our support of those who have experienced bullying and harassment. I would like to reaffirm that we are deeply sorry for the harm that has been caused to every one of those individuals.”



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New bullying review needed after ‘damning’ reports


One of the whistle-blowers who began the process exposing a bullying crisis at NHS Highland has said the organisation still has more to do in Argyll & Bute.


In 2018 GP Dr Iain Kennedy and three other doctors wrote on open letter highlighting a “culture of fear and intimidation” at the health board.


This sparked an independent review by John Sturrock QC that found hundreds of staff could have been victims of bullying.


Speaking to, Dr Iain Kennedy, welcomed the leadership changes that had taken place since Sturrock reported and described the ‘healing process’ set up to help staff as a “major success”.


Read the full interview here.


But he said that more needed to be done to address the concerns of staff in Argyll & Bute.


“One of our current concerns is that there are a number of individuals coming forward in the Argyll and Bute part of NHS Highland, reporting current and longstanding bullying and there have been calls to have an independent review performed there – Sturrock did recommend that.”


“The concerns in Argyll and Bute are not going away unfortunately, and the results of the survey were damning.


“Myself and my whistle-blowing colleagues do believe an independent review is required into Argyll and Bute, and I’m not sure who should undertake it, but it should be an individual or organisation who is independent of NHS Highland.”


Review author John Sturrock QC called for a second investigation focusing on Argyll & Bute because of its isolation from the rest of the north Highland area.


He said some of the allegations ‘implicate management at a very senior level’.


A row emerged after health board management there insisted they had met this call with a workplace survey from an independent research agency.


It found bullying was rife, with nearly seven in ten current and former NHS staff having experienced bullying and harassment.


However local politicians and staff representatives said it “stretches credulity” to say the survey met the criteria set down by Mr Sturrock because it was commissioned by NHS Highland management.


by Henry Anderson & Sarah Nimmo


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Delayed NHS whistleblowing protections come into force in April 2021


Reforms to protect whistleblowers raising concerns about patient safety in NHS Scotland, that were delayed because of covid-19, are set to come into force in April next year.


The creation of the role of national independent whistleblowing officer, with powers to review how NHS boards, primary care services and independent providers handle cases, was due to happen this summer.


The Scottish government says it has had to consider other pressures on the NHS as it restarts services ahead of winter and a potential second spike in coronavirus cases.


At the start of this year whistleblowing ‘champions’ were appointed to health boards as part of the Scottish government’s broader reaction to instances of bullying and mistrust in the NHS, including those raised by the Sturrock review that published its findings in May 2019.


John Sturrock QC was asked to investigate allegations of widespread bullying in NHS Highland that had led to some members of staff leaving their posts and in some cases, unable to work again.


In November last year, it was revealed that independent researchers were being brought in to investigate claims of bullying in Argyll & Bute.


The reforms coming in next year will see the Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman become responsible for setting a ‘model procedure’ that the NHS should follow.


The Ombudsman will also take over the role of the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) for the health service in Scotland.


In a written parliamentary answer, the Scottish government says new whistleblowing standards will be published on 1st April 2021 when the new arrangements come into effect.


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I was bullied, broken and managed out


This is not how things should be. The profession of pharmacy has reached such a point that speaking up will destroy your career.


Everyone has a voice these days but no-one can speak.


Welcome to community pharmacy where rampant asset stripping has been happening for years. Corporate looting you might call it. A few years ago I felt the effects of this culture and environment directly and I can assure you it was not pleasant.


Here is my story, for what its worth.


I applied myself during my pharmacy degree and I did really well. I flew through pharmacy school. My grades reflected this. I worked hard though.


I began my pre-registration year. I was eager to get going.


This was my first encounter with community pharmacy. I was at the bottom of the pile and I was ready for that. I was stacking shelves and helping with the running of the community pharmacy that I worked in. This went on for weeks which ran into months. I tried to rationalise the activities I was doing and reconcile them with the role that I was working towards. The reality of pharmacy, and in my case community pharmacy, was completely remote from what I had been sold.


I decided to stick with it. I had some previous life experience so I decided to basically put my head down and get on with it.


I reached out to colleagues in the company, including a manager above the level of my pharmacist tutor. We had a discussion about my progress. I described how I had come in and basically been allocated to sales assistant jobs. I explained to this colleague how I felt I was not making progress. For example, I had not been given any direction, had been assigned no developmental tasks and had not really progressed towards my goal of becoming a pharmacist at all.


We had a great chat and agreed on some steps to accelerate my learning. I was really excited and encouraged at this point. The senior colleague left and I went back to work.


What I didn’t realise at that time was that there was now a target on my back. And actually this is how it goes in community pharmacy. The penny would slowly drop over the coming months and things would rapidly go from bad to worse.


The concerns I raised about my pre-registration training clearly set alarm bells off somewhere in the bowels of the company. After that day it was absolute hell.


The pharmacist in the store was a bully. I have never encountered a non-pharmacist store manager so scared to approach a pharmacist as this one was. It was breathtaking how that pharmacist spoke to the team but also spoke to the store manager.


Looking back with hindsight I can now see that the pharmacist was clearly being managed from above because I gradually began to be given tasks and projects but very grudgingly. It was about this time that the sniping passive-aggressive comments started. Before this whole episode in my life happened I prided myself on being really quite confident but, to be honest, these little comments began to really wear me down.


And that’s the thing about bullying. The sadness builds over time. Quietly, gradually it builds until one day you really can’t do it anymore.


I had wanted to be a pharmacist for years so getting to the end of the pre-registration year was absolutely essential. Besides, I simply couldn’t afford to give up. Again I decided to put a smile on and get on with it.


My clinical knowledge was good. I picked up the dispensing role quickly and effectively. I kept going.


I was working one Sunday. A lady came in. She said that she was without her blue inhaler. This was the classic emergency supply situation. She asked if she could acquire an inhaler. I said I would go and check but that likely that would be no problem.


Just as I turned around to seek help my pharmacist shot out of the dispensary and declared loudly;


“I am the pharmacist. He is not. I decide what happens around here not him.”


Quite understandably the lady looked shocked. I didn’t know what to say but was completely astounded. I’m ashamed to say I got upset for the first time at this moment.


After the lady left the pharmacy the pharmacist took me aside in the dispensary and immediately said;


“I could have punched you in the face for what you tried to pull there.”


I was upset and completely mortified by this comment. I said to the pharmacist that I was leaving at that moment. I told the pharmacist that I would need at least ten minutes before I could start again.


I need to explain at this point that the acute stress I felt as a result of this situation was largely down to the fact that the pharmacist was also my pre-registration tutor and therefore had great power over my future destiny. This pharmacist had the power to deny my route to becoming a pharmacist.


This situation was consigned to history and we all moved on. Or so I thought.


The next stage of this story is what happened towards the end of my pre-registration year. My pharmacist tutor had indicated to company officials that I would not be signed off as competent at the end of my pre-registration year.


I couldn’t believe it. My worst fears were being realised. The reasons given were that there were a few areas of competence that I did not meet.


I was told I would have to find another placement.


I was pulled out of the store for a few weeks. I was embraced by a new pharmacy team, completed the rest of my pre-registration placement with relative ease and was proud to make it on to the pharmacy register. I had achieved my goal.


However, the cost of this achievement has been significant. Over this period I suffered an episode of situational depression and still have anxiety to this day. At the worst point I admit I had dark thoughts.


I wanted to write this to hopefully ensure similar stops happening to other pharmacists. I thought I was as strong person but when bombarded repeatedly with horrible comments and behaviours from a terrible individual that strength dissolved and for the first time in my life I reached my mental limit. You should never assume what is happening behind the eyes of your colleagues and if you see them struggling just be kind and try to support them.


I can’t see a long term future in community pharmacy for me but I have to endure it for now. I wonder how many others are trying to escape.


The author is a pharmacist and wishes to remain anonymous.


Stephen-Andrew Whyte on a career in paediatrics, sexism, what the point of pharmacy is and where we are going

Stephen-Andrew Whyte is an advanced clinical practitioner, has an interest in child health and is an all-around educationalist. We are also extremely proud to have the benefit of Stephen’s insight as a member of the Pharmacy in Practice editorial board.


I spoke to Stephen recently about his career in paediatric pharmacy, professional coaching, sexism, bullying, apprenticeships and broadly where the profession of pharmacy in the UK needs to go.



Stephen will be joining us in Scotland later this year to support the running of the new Pharmacy in Practice support days for pharmacists working in primary care (GP pharmacy and community pharmacy) in Scotland. To register your interest in these days and be alerted when dates are announced click here.


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Podcast: Hospital pharmacy, non-clinical pharmacists, snowflakes and bullying


This week we had great fun speaking to The Hospital MPharm. The Hospital MPharm has a very interesting Facebook page on which she welcomes contributors to share experiences from their working day in hospital pharmacy. We talked all things hospital pharmacy, bullying and we sorted out what exactly a non-clinical snowflake pharmacist is.



Find her Facebook page here.


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