BULLYING and whistleblowing in the NHS continued to be a recurring theme in the Herald’s health coverage this year.

The issue had been thrust into the spotlight in September 2018 when the Herald revealed the concerns of clinicians in NHS Highland who described a “culture of fear and intimidation” which they said was silencing criticism and putting patient safety at risk.

As 2019 began, hundreds of staff members past and present came forward to share their stories with John Sturrock, the QC appointed to lead the independent review.

His final report, published in May, was damning.

READ MORE: 'Many' NHS Highland staff suffered 'serious harm and trauma'

He said it was possible that “many hundreds” of stuff had been the victims of inappropriate behaviour, and that a “significant number” of them “have resigned, moved to other jobs or retired as a direct result of their experiences...some to their financial detriment.”

Many of the findings echoed problems repeatedly described by staff across the NHS.

The Sturrock report described failures and delays in how staff concerns were investigated, and victimisation of whistleblowers who had “dared” to raise a patient care concern or suggest a different way of doing things.

In particular, Mr Sturrock expressed alarm at the “peremptory, inappropriate and inconsistent use of suspension as a disciplinary tool” to freeze out troublesome employees.

The bravery of the NHS Highland doctors in speaking out inspired other NHS staff to do the same.

In April, the Herald reported the concerns of audiologists at Borders General Hospital - two of whom were suspended from work at the time, and a third off sick with stress.

The three whistleblowers, Dawn Saunders, Beverley Herne, and Sara Doggett, said the culture within NHS Borders “is accepting of extremely poor standards of clinical practice that put vulnerable adults and children at risk every day”.

They said they had tried to flag up more than 100 cases of poor clinical practice and potential risk of harm to patients, including the case of a man whose eardrum was perforated “through sheer incompetence”.

READ MORE: Audiologists warn of 'poor clinical practice' in NHS Borders

However, they said staff who questioned management or raised issues around clinical negligence were “subject to continuous victimisation and bullying by senior management in an attempt to silence concerns and furthermore exit such employees from the organisation”.

NHS Borders said an external review found “no immediate patient safety concerns”.

In May, the Herald also revealed that 85 radiographers in NHS Ayrshire had lodged a formal grievance against their managers.

READ MORE: NHS Ayrshire bullying row over overworked radiographers 'suicidal' and 'scared to speak up'

It was triggered after radiographer and union rep Fiona Ferguson, recently returned to work after breast cancer, was threatened with disciplinary action for challenging changes to CT scanning.

The Society of Radiographers said this was the “final straw” for their members after “years of bullying, harassment and victimisation”, which had driven at least two employees to the brink of suicide.