By Brian Devlin, Press Manager for #MeTooNHSBullying and former Director of Corporate Affairs at NHS Highland

COURAGE. They say you know it when you see it. Courage is being defined in NHS Highland by a group of doctors who have done a remarkable thing. They called out the pervasive bullying culture in the organisation for what it is.

Maybe naming horrible conditions is essential for doctors to do their jobs well? Those of us who suffered at the hands of bullies within NHS Highland thank them.

They haven’t made themselves universally popular. Some within NHS Highland have been angered by their actions. The biggest “sin” they have committed is speaking to the media. They have broken the golden rule: the one saying – never threaten the reputation of the organisation. However breaking this rule is becoming more common. Courage is infectious.

“The press just want to sell papers” was a refrain that I heard routinely when I ran NHS Highland’s press department. That word “just” irritates. The media want to sell papers. They don’t “just” want to sell papers. They want to interpret complexities – to alert us when things that matter are in danger of going calamitously wrong. NHS Highland is in such a perilous state.

It is important that those questioning why the doctors did go to the press are honest. Some have suggested that the first time senior management were aware of the issue was when the doctors “blew the whistle”. However, the doctors exhausted the internal bureaucratic mechanisms. They were repeatedly thwarted. The ‘“leaders’ of NHS Highland didn’t want to listen. There was no alternative. To do nothing would be unethical. If the top team had demonstrated a willingness to take their responsibility seriously there might not have been a need for the doctors to have gone public. But the “leaders” did not have the type of courage the doctors had.

Such is the disintegration of trust in the management of the health authority it is now widely accepted that only an independent inquiry will do. The chairman feels the board needs outside help. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has requested an independent external investigation be established. Talks about a QC led inquiry are advanced.

There is now widespread support from others in the medical profession throughout the entire organisation and around 200 people from across the range of professional groups have made their testimonials known to the trade union GMB, an organisation that has become the safe place for people to take their concerns to.

The employee director from Unison, having a place on the NHS board, is widely seen to be a compromised and isolated figure who no longer appears to have a moral mandate to represent those members of staff who allege they have been bullied – which is why people are bypassing the board’s internal mechanisms.

People will do that, particularly when they are on their knees with exhaustion and fear because the so-called processes are broken. Such is the hazard of sacrificing independence for power.

The angry people within the high echelons of NHS Highland will have to buy some indigestion pills, lest their anger becomes too corrosive to them for two reasons. Firstly, everyone will need to heal and to find ways of working together in a renewed and refreshed organisation. Secondly something fundamental has changed in the Highlands – and maybe even across the NHS in Scotland. People have seen what courage looks like. People have become tired and exasperated with the bullies and their pomposity. Something has happened. Courage has found its place.