Alleged ‘culture of bullying and harassment’ in ambulance service

A SECAmb crew
A SECAmb crew

Staff working for Sussex’s ambulance service have complained about a ‘culture of bullying and harassment’ to health regulators.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which covers Sussex, Surrey and Kent, was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) back in May, and although a full report is not due until the end of the year, an initial letter has been sent highlighting areas warranting ‘immediate further investigation and attention from the trust’.

It explains that following the inspection the CQC had received calls from staff ‘indicating a continuing culture of bullying and harassment’, which supported some of the evidence from interviews during the inspection, and appear to be linked to inconsistent application of HR polices, such as sickness and return to work.

In his letter Alan Thorne, head of hospital inspections at the CQC, said the caring approach of staff to patients was of a ‘very high standard’, but other areas of significant concern included a computer dispatch system that appeared to be out-of-date without the most contemporaneous record of addresses.

Arrangements for safeguarding were found to be ‘exceptionally weak with limited understanding of processes throughout the trust’, while the CQC’s letter said that allegations of abuse against staff were ‘not being investigated in an appropriate and timely manner’, while a high percentage of feedback from staff showed that some ‘did not feel cared for by the organisation’.

A spokesman for SECAmb said: “South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust is keen to be open and transparent about the issues it is currently dealing with. As a result, it was felt important to share with the public, through its website, initial findings highlighted in the letter from the CQC’s Alan Thorne.

“We await and will respond more fully once we know the outcome of the CQC’s full report in due course.

Commenting on the letter, SECAmb trust chairman Sir Peter Dixon said: “We have already shared the headlines of this letter with staff and governors but we have now clarified with the CQC that we are able to make the entire letter public.

“On the basis that it gives us very clear work to do, some of which has already started, I thought it important that everyone should have access to it.

“As you will see, it is possible that further regulatory action will follow and I should emphasise that we will use that to enhance all aspects of our care for patients and our responsibility towards staff.”

Julie Fitzgerald, director at Healthwatch East Sussex, added: “Naturally we are concerned that our ambulance trust is yet again making news headlines for the wrong reasons.

“Our role is to ensure patients are listened to and are reassured that services are safe. With that in mind, we have been in touch with the trust today to seek more information.

“In the meantime, we would encourage anyone who is concerned about treatment they may have received from the ambulance trust to get in touch with us, in confidence, on 0333 101 4007.”

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