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South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust chiefs ignored complaints about harassment and bullying


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Bosses at South East Coast Ambulance Service have been heavily criticised for failing to act on complaints about bullying, harassment and inappropriate sexualised behaviour among its staff.

An investigation was launched by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after it received a number of complaints from whistleblowers raising concerns that nothing was being done.

The CQC found staff were scared to speak out about bullying and harassment while there was a failure by the trust leadership team to address concerns raised. Staff described the culture they worked in as toxic.

The inspection concluded that leadership of the trust was inadequate and has recommended that it receives significant support to resolve the issues raised.

Amanda Williams, CQC’s director of integrated care, said: "Our inspectors found staff on the front line were doing their utmost to provide safe and effective care and treatment of patients across Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

"They were doing a good job, especially in light of the additional pressures on the service caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But while staff were doing their very best to provide safe care to patients, leaders often appeared out of touch with what was happening on the front line and weren’t always aware of the challenges staff faced.

The CQC’s inspectors found staff on the front line were doing their utmost to provide safe and effective care and treatment of patients. Picture: SECAmb
The CQC’s inspectors found staff on the front line were doing their utmost to provide safe and effective care and treatment of patients. Picture: SECAmb

"Staff described feeling unable to raise concerns without fear of reprisal – and when concerns were raised, these were not acted on.

"This meant that some negative aspects of the organisational culture, including bullying and harassment and inappropriate sexualised behaviour, were not addressed and became normalised behaviours.

"I want to praise those staff who were brave enough to come forward, as speaking up in these circumstances is not easy, but it is important that it happens.”

The 58-page report has been made public today and comes after an inspection in February.

Inspectors also conducted a comprehensive inspection of the emergency operations centre (EOC) and the NHS 111 service provided by the trust.

The report into the trust found leaders were out of touch with what was happening on the front line. Stock picture
The report into the trust found leaders were out of touch with what was happening on the front line. Stock picture

They rated the NHS 111 service as good. However, the overall rating for the emergency operations centre moved down from good to requires improvement.

In a statement the trust said it recognised the challenges ahead.

“South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) is committed to making improvements following the publication of a CQC report rating how the trust was led as inadequate,” it said.

“The serious concerns surrounding culture and leadership highlighted by the CQC are being taken extremely seriously and we have already begun the work to implement improvements at pace, taking on board early feedback from the CQC as well as feedback from our own staff survey.

"We are pleased the excellent care provided by our staff was recognised in the report and their kind, compassionate and supportive approach towards patients was noted.

“The serious concerns surrounding culture and leadership highlighted by the CQC are being taken extremely seriously and we have already begun the work to implement improvements..."

"We are especially pleased to see our NHS 111 service retain its ‘good’ rating following a very difficult two years of the pandemic, which placed significant strain on the service.

"The inspection, which took place in February, looked in particular at management and leadership but also at our Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) and NHS 111 service."

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