Giving evidence to the Scottish Covid Inquiry recently, Donald Macaskilll, chief executive of Scottish Care, said that the Crown Office investigation into the circumstances of care home deaths during the pandemic has “broken” staff in the sector, for whom it was “devastating”.


He commented that “four years on, we have thousands of staff whose professionalism has been called into question, over whom there is a weight of suspicion and a cloud hanging over.” He observed that, sadly, individuals have felt they can’t continue in their role and have decided to leave the sector. There is, he said, a “complete imbalance” in a “disproportionate action …against a workforce who by vast majority tried to do their best.”


Dr Iain Kennedy of the BMA has spoken of the “moral distress” experienced by doctors, constantly having to apologise for issues that are not their fault; struggling to do the best for patients despite the system being stacked against them; and the “fear that the prevailing blame culture may leave you shouldering responsibility for things going wrong which are beyond your control.”


There must be many other workers who feel they are the brunt of direct or indirect criticism. One thinks of police officers taking on responsibility for offences committed under new hate crime legislation when resources are already greatly depleted; teachers in schools where standards are judged internationally to be slipping; employees at Ferguson Marine whose work is the subject of ongoing scrutiny and adverse comment – and many others who do their best but whose sectors are struggling to cope with the pressures and political decisions in modern Scotland.


The words of Mr Macaskill and Dr Kennedy seem like a plea for more compassion in our society. More acknowledgment of how difficult it is to deliver key services, perhaps particularly in the public sector, and more recognition that, yes indeed, the vast majority of folk are trying to do their best. Perhaps also a plea for more reassurance that we really value these individuals who put in so much effort on our behalf.


I heard this week of the senior health care worker who, faced with substantial cuts to the services for which they are responsible, starts work each day at 5am trying to do their best to help colleagues to minimise the damage to those affected.


Our blame culture, with its superficiality and simplistic slogans, runs the risk of diminishing the value of such efforts, resulting in more departures and more unhappiness. The imbalance surely needs to be corrected. And that must start with the example set by those in leadership roles at the very top.


John Sturrock, The Times, 23 April 2024


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