Members of a health committee have responded to the findings of a report which has cleared a government Minister and an MLC of bullying.

In an open letter, two current and six former members of the Health Services Consultative Committee say following their experience most would not seek another public service role in future.

Health Minister Lawrie Hooper and department colleague Tanya August-Hanson have been cleared of breaching the government code following an investigation into allegations of bullying and intimidation.

But the independent report says the Minister ‘flew closer to the sun by some margin’ than Ms August-Hanson,  and the Ramsey MHK had taken a ‘pretty shabby’ approach at a House of Keys sitting when he had accused the HSCC of lying in its annual report.

The allegations were outlined in two complaints by members of the HSCC who claimed they were subjected to a ‘rant’ by the Health Minister and shouted at by his department member colleague at a meeting in June.

Six out of nine members of the committee have since resigned.

In the open letter, the two current and six former members thank lawyer Alan Gough for his balanced report even though they disagreed with some of its conclusions.

They say: ‘We firmly believe that our complaint and all that ensued could have been avoided if the Minister had adopted an approach more characteristic of a mature, professional leader.

‘Relationships with the four previous DHSC Ministers were always cordial.

‘A straightforward acknowledgement from the Minister that the meeting could have been handled differently, as Mr Gough concluded, would have been enough to enable us all to step back, regroup and resume a constructive dialogue.’

But the eight authors of the open letter say it was the stigma of being branded ‘liars’ on public record which they find most difficult to bear.

The independent report finds that the Health Minister was ‘not wrong’ to say what he did in the House of Keys but it was a ‘pretty shabby approach’ for him to take. ‘We still have no satisfactory explanation for this,’ the open letter states. It says the Minister’s ‘shocking assertion’ had caused ‘deep offence to each one of us’.

‘We agree with Mr Gough when he describes the Minister’s handling of this as “shabby”,’ states the open letter which has been signed by Annette Baker, Carol Bamford, Andrew Cole, Sue Gowing, Mike Johnson, Margaret Simpson, Louise Stricket and Judy Thornley.

They say: ‘Having made our viewpoint clear to the public, now is the time for those of us who have resigned from the committee to move on.’

The independent report said there had been a battle over the identity of the HSCC, with the politicians believing its role was to scrutinise medical services but members of the committee thinking they should be able to comment on policy, priorities and funding. New regulations are now in place which the HSCC’s two current and six former members believe reduce its role to basic level observations of services, ‘which is valuable but already carried out by other volunteers’.

They add: ‘Unsurprisingly six members have left the HSCC in the past three months, including recent recruits and long-serving members as well as our longest-serving member and secretary. For some the experience has adversely affected their mental health.

‘Most of us will not seek a public service role in the future.

‘We are a small nation with a small pool of talent from which to generate good government. Ministers and political members should have access to expertise from experienced lay members of the public.

‘The disenfranchisement of the HSCC through regulatory change has potentially seriously reduced the likelihood of recruiting and engaging lay people to provide enough scrutiny and challenge.’