A MEDIC at the centre of a row over alleged bullying culture at NHS Highland said planned talks between clinicians and the board’s leadership broke down after executives tried to “divide and conquer” the whistle-blowers.

Dr Iain Kennedy, an Inverness GP and medical secretary of the Highland Local Medical Committee (LMC) said no meeting is currently scheduled between NHS Highland bosses and the medical staff representatives who this week claimed concerns over staff shortages and patient care was being jeopardised by a decade-long “culture of fear and intimidation”.

Read more: Culture of 'fear and intimidation' silencing concerns at NHS Highland 

The board’s medical director Dr Rod Harvey said he “did not recognise” the depiction but insisted NHS Highland takes such allegations “extremely seriously” and any complaints are fully investigated.

Health Secretary Jean Freeman said on Wednesday that she expected chairman David Alston and chief executive Professor Elaine Mead to sit down with the doctors - including Dr Kennedy - as soon as possible.

However, Dr Kennedy said himself and colleagues had only been invited to speak with bosses individually.

He said: “It’s true that they did try to meet but they didn’t try to meet with us collectively. They tried to split us up which is the classic divide and conquer technique so at the moment there is no meeting planned between us and NHS Highland.

“We need assurance that we are going to be able to discuss our concerns in more detail in a safe environment, where we don’t feel forced down a procedural route."

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Dr Kennedy said only a "completely independent review" could address the issue. He added: "What we don’t want is people marking their own homework. We have no confidence at all in an internal review which is why we have had to whistle-blow, because they have tried to suppress it.

"Neither would we have confidence in the NHS on its own investigating this because the past decade is that it gets covered up. We can have no more cover ups.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: “We have offered to meet with the Chair, Chair elect and Vice Chair of the [Area Medical Committee] but they are planning to seek professional advice from the BMA before they are prepared to meet and discuss their concerns further with us. We are waiting to hear back from them.”

Meanwhile Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands, Edward Mountain, urged Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions to order a "full, independent inquiry" into the allegations.

He added: “As I can tell her, there is no confidence in an internal investigation by NHS Highland.”

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Ms Sturgeon said: “The Health Secretary spoke with the chair of NHS Highland, David Alston, this week and made crystal clear her expectation that this issue be addressed thoroughly.

"We understand that the chair hopes to meet the signatories to the letter to discuss their concerns as soon as possible and has also encouraged other staff to come forward if they have any concerns that they wish to report.

“Let me make absolutely clear the welfare of staff in our NHS is paramount, everything must be done to eradicate any bullying in the workplace."