THE NHS Highland bullying row is “the most serious failure” of its kind since devolution, a union claims.

GMB union has formally declared its intention to raise a collective dispute over the “culture of bullying, fear and intimidation” said to exist within the northern health board.

Four doctors came forward with allegations last month, and the union says it has since uncovered evidence of widespread bullying across nursing, clinical, administrative and support services roles.

One former manager told how he contemplated taking his own life as a result of workplace bullying, while a former staff nurse called the environment “medieval”.

In a letter to Health and Sport Secretary Jeane Freeman, the workers’ body has now hit out at internal processes aimed at addressing staff grievances and called for mediation service Acas to be brought in.

In the message on behalf of members, GMB regional officer Liz Gordon urged Scottish Government ministers and NHS Scotland bosses to engage in talks “at the earliest opportunity”.

Accusing NHS Highland of a “failure to address a systematic and long lasting culture of bullying and harassment throughout their organisation”, she states: “GMB regards this situation to be the most serious failure of staff governance from any NHS board since the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland was created.”

David Alston, who chairs the board of NHS Highland, said leaders are “keen to understand the concerns which have been raised”.

Responding to the GMB letter, Freeman said: “If there is anyone in our health service who is feeling bullied or harassed I take that very seriously – and I want you to come forward.”

She added she plans to go further to support staff: “I will personally appoint each board’s whistleblowing champion. If any one of these dedicated professionals feels they are not being heard in their boards, they can come straight to me.”