THE head of Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons has been ousted from one of medicine's most prestigious posts.

Alison Rooney, 61, who had held the post of chief executive at the prestigious medical body since October 2008, was removed following a vote of no confidence on October 11 backed by a majority of the college’s council.

The action is unprecedented for the historic institution, founded in 1505.

Ms Rooney, The Herald understands, now plans to challenge the decision at an employment tribunal.

The College’s leadership are claimed by well-placed sources to have become frustrated at a number of alleged issues during her tenure.

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Insiders described concerns about high staff turnover, low morale and a perception there was not enough positive publicity being generated for the organisation, when compared to other medical Royal Colleges.

The root cause was blamed on an alleged breakdown of working relationships between the now ex-CEO and some of her staff, according to some who spoke with The Herald.

The Herald can reveal a number of employees have been paid off and departed with non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which gag them from speaking out about their experiences.

Members of the College were informed of Ms Rooney’s departure in an email over the weekend.

The membership is made up of some 26,000 surgeons and medics in the UK and around the world.

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A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh confirmed Ms Rooney’s departure.

In a statement, they said: “We can confirm Alison Rooney has left her position as Chief Executive of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

“Deputy CEO, Anthony Oxford, will oversee the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Executive Offices until a new CEO is appointed.”

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The College, a registered charity, works to promote patient safety by championing the highest standards of surgical and dental practice.

It raises funds through membership fees, training courses and exam accreditation, commercial activities and donations.

Ms Rooney, who was paid around £150,000-200,000 from her role at the College, is also a board member at NHS National Services Scotland.

She previously served as University Secretary at Glasgow Caledonian University from 2000 to 2008 and as Director of Registers Scotland from 1995 to 2000 and was also a non-executive board member at NHS Fife until 2017.

One source told the Herald that Ms Rooney’s departure had been “a very long time coming” and said many were pleased decisive action had been taken at the council meeting.

They said: “Successive presidents have turned a blind eye. I know one in particular who decided ‘let’s just work around it, don’t rock the boat’.”

Ms Rooney's lawyers said she had never been subject to complaints or disciplinary issues for her performance or conduct during her tenure.

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A source claimed that concerns over staff turnover and use of NDAs in facilitating their departures had been growing.

"There are accidents waiting to happen in terms of following procedure, pay offs, legal actions," they said.

"I suspect they were concerned that's what was coming down the road."

NDAs were originally designed for the commercial sector, to stop staff sharing trade secrets if they moved to a new company.

However, questions have been raised in recent year over at the use of NDAs in industries including academia and the NHS.

In April, the BBC revealed that UK universities had spent £87 million on pay-offs with NDAs since 2017.

Scottish health boards paid out £850,000 in settlements with confidentiality clauses in 2014/15. Their use is now restricted in the NHS amid fears they could be misused to silence whistleblowers.

A source said the College could now refocus on promoting itself.

They said: "What has kept that place going is the clinical side of it - that remains strong.

“They do really good clinical work, they do excellent training, the standards in terms of clinical, surgical, educational work are extremely good.

“They are globally renowned for that, but these stories just haven't been getting out.

"There is a mountain to climb now.

“That's what has really suffered over the past decade."

Another source described some of the atmosphere at the College as being akin to a "viper's nest".

"The staff turnover is huge," they claimed, insisting: "Now that she's gone, maybe that will make a difference to the culture."

However, a former employee - who was managed by Ms Rooney - said she was “shocked” by claims of a bullying culture and praised her former boss.

She said: “I think my experience with Alison is probably quite different.

"I was there for about a year and Alison was my line manager, and she was always very supportive and very helpful to me.

"I’ve moved on because of career progression, to a job in the same sector but in a more senior role.

“From my point of view, she was very supportive. She always listened to me.

"I left on good terms with both the College and with Alison.”

Ms Rooney's solicitor, Bruce Caldow, a partner at Harper Macleod LLP, said his client had been a faithful and diligent employee of the College.

In a statement, he said: "This is entirely a private matter between my client and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, who Ms Rooney faithfully, diligently and transparently served for over 10 years, under a succession of Presidents, and to whom Ms Rooney helped deliver significant successes throughout that time.

"There will be no further comment from my client at this time as formal steps have already been taken to assert Ms Rooney's rights."

The Herald has offered to interview Ms Rooney directly.