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The Herald on Sunday editorial

Herald on Sunday editorial: End sick culture

When a loved one dies and is taken to a mortuary, it goes without saying that everyone expects the body to be treated with respect.

Our troubling accounts of alleged work practices at Auckland City Hospital's morgue are a severe test of that trust.

Revelations that WorkSafe, the Government's workplace health and safety regulator, is investigating allegations of bullying at the mortuary follow complaints from a former employee. Another woman has complained to the Employment Relations Authority.

Both woman allege hospital authorities knew of the bullying but failed to stop it. The pair, from Britain, were distressed over the handing of corpses. Several other staff outlined similar concerns to our journalists.

For two weeks the Herald on Sunday sought a response from the Auckland District Health Board to the allegations it had reviewed and concluded were serious and newsworthy.

Bullying can be insidious and have a corrosive impact on victims. It can be difficult to identify and prove. But this does not let employers off the hook when presented with solid claims.

The board, beyond a tepid statement about meeting health and safety standards, replied through its communications team that while it did not comment on "unsubstantiated hearsay", issues bought to the attention of management were "always investigated".

On one occasion it did take action, upholding last October a bullying complaint by a forensic technician against a female employee. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the board suggested the woman who laid the complaint could look to work in a different department. She quit, upset at the outcome, and returned to the UK, saying that ADHB "has got rid of the victims and not the problem".

Somewhat belatedly it would seem that after the embarrassing publicity the board has changed tack. Chief executive Ailsa Claire acknowledged a recent staff survey had revealed that employees experienced bullying. She pledged not to "shy away" from the issue, and invited staff to raise it directly with her.

For public reassurance, the board needs to make public the outcome of the bullying inquiries.

It is time the health board healed itself.

- NZ Herald

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