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South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust bullying report finds 40% of staff victims

By Ed McConnell

More than 40% of staff at South East Coast Ambulance (SECAmb) experienced bullying in the past year, with female staff victim to sexual harassment and grooming.

The shocking statistic came to light following today's publication of a large-scale independent report into the issue.

The report also revealed a 'boys club' at the top of the trust created a toxic environment.

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SECAmb library image

SECAmb library image

The independent report, which was commissioned by SECAmb and produced by Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University, follows concerns raised in the Trust’s staff survey and last year’s CQC report.

More than 2,000 staff — around half the organisation — participated in the research over four months.

The report concluded that bullying and harassment and the failures of the trust to address the issues "has left many employees bereft of both."

It added there was too much 'organisational noise' around the problems and the level of staff reporting issues was truly shocking.

Coxheath, near Maidstone, was 'plagued' by such behaviour and in some areas in Kent female staff had reported being sexually harassed and even groomed by male colleagues.

Employees spoke of sexual favours being traded for career progression and described some male colleagues as 'sexual predators' who would groom students.

Some reported being groped by colleagues and said while many responsible for such incidents had left the trust the culture was somewhat embedded.

Unmanageable work loads, excessive monitoring of staff and opinions being ignored were also flagged up by respondents.

Half of respondents reported being treated in a disrespectful or rude way; more than a third experience intimidating behaviour or felt threatened; a third reported regular exposure to gossip and rumours, insults and ostracisation; and a quarter were teased or the butt of jokes which went too far.

At the root of many of these issues was a managerial 'boys club' which created a toxic environment and made many staff feel like they could not progress unless their 'face fitted'.

The HR department responsible for dealing with such grievances was described as dysfunctional and many of its employees were seen as bullies.

The report praised staff who came forward, many out of a sense of 'moral duty' for their bravery, and said many genuinely feared for their jobs.

SECamb library image

SECamb library image

A spokesman for SECAmb said: "Publishing the report in full is the first step in the Trust tackling its findings. The Trust wants to make it very clear that the behaviours identified in the report are unacceptable and HR action is being taken against individuals where necessary."

SECAmb will be holding a number of focus groups in the coming weeks to address the issues further.

SECAmb Chief Executive Daren Mochrie said: “I would like to thank Professor Lewis for his expertise in writing this report, although I am truly disappointed and upset that so many of our staff have experienced bullying and disrespectful behaviour in the workplace.

“In the time since my appointment in April this year, it has been very clear to me that SECAmb is full of extremely dedicated and professional people who are concerned about caring for their patients as well as each other. However, I was also aware that the Trust is facing a number of challenges and areas where vital improvements need to be made.

“One such area was high reported levels of bullying and harassment evidenced by our staff survey and from last year’s CQC inspection. We chose to commission this independent report to help us address this worrying issue. The behaviours it describes are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated, in any sense and at any level, moving forward.

SECAmb Chairman Richard Foster said: “I and the whole Board take the findings of the report extremely seriously. It is now important that we work closely with staff to build a very different workplace, where all staff will be supported and where poor behaviours will not be tolerated.”

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