CQC finds culture of 'bullying and abuse' at East of England Ambulance Service

  • Heidi Smoult, Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the CQC

  • Full interview with Nicola Scrivings, Chair of the East of England Ambulance Trust

A damning report has uncovered a culture of "bullying and abuse" at the East of England Ambulance Service.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) found staff and patients were being put at risk by poor leadership and a failure to tackle serious allegations such as sexual harassment.

The CQC inspected the trust between June 25th and July 15th, 2020, after whistleblowers raised concerns over sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour and harassment. 

The report found poor leadership had created a culture of 'bullying and abuse'. Credit: ITV News Anglia

  • The Trust has been recommended for special measures and referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), due to a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010.  

Ted Baker, England’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “The trust’s leaders did not adequately promote the wellbeing of their patients and staff because their processes did not enable problems to be identified and addressed.

"Leaders did not have oversight of the challenges they faced, and some senior managers did not have the right skills and abilities for their roles.  “Some leaders adopted a combative approach which deterred staff from speaking out, including on serious issues such as safeguarding and abuse.

"This fuelled a negative culture, where bullying was normalised, and put patient and staff safety at risk."

The report found staff were deterred from speaking out over serious allegations of abuse. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The CQC inspection found:

  • The trust’s leadership did not cultivate a transparent culture, with some senior leaders adopting a combative and defensive approach when facing reasonable challenge.

  • Staff were undervalued, not empowered to raise concerns and treated disrespectfully when they spoke out about problems.

  • Some of the trust’s leaders lacked adequate skills, knowledge and experience for their roles. Their inability was compounded by their weak use of processes to understand and respond to the challenges they faced.

The CQC also found the Trust failured to learn from sexual harassment directed towards staff in one of its workplaces, including after recommendations were made in an independent report.

Leaders also failed to act decisively when staff faced allegations of predatory sexual behaviour towards patients.

CQC has told the Trust it must make several improvements, including:• Implementing effective systems to identify and assess safeguarding issues, and monitor staff Disclosure and Barring Service renewals.

• Reviewing policies to deal with allegations made against staff.

• Undertaking adequate pre-employment checks.

• Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of subcontracted private ambulance services and their staff.

• Actioning the findings of its review into inappropriate behaviours and implementing effective processes to manage concerns, grievances and disciplinaries.

• Ensuring all required oversight and governance arrangements are in place.

• Addressing long-standing concerns regarding bullying and harassment within the organisation. 

The East of England Ambulance Service has been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The Chair of the East of England Ambulance Service, Nicola Scrivings said: “Today’s report calls out where we need to improve and we will now do everything possible, as fast as possible, to make the improvements required.

“We are working closely with the CQC, NHS colleagues and other partners to take action right now to address these concerns and put this right for the long-term.

“The trust aims to provide outstanding quality of care and performance for patients and be an exceptional place to work, volunteer and learn.

"In a message to staff today, the executive team has again reinforced its commitment to listen to and support anyone who raises concerns.

“It is clear from the CQC staff survey that the majority of staff at the Trust are proud to work for EEAST.

"The role of the leaders is to make sure every member of the team feels that pride, with the support and culture they deserve.”

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis has described the report as 'deeply disturbing' and says what has happened is almost beyond comprehension.

Clive Lewis MP Credit: PA Wire

Mr Lewis says in his view the buck for this kind of thing ultimately stops with ministers and central government.

He added that he believes it is one of the many consequences of foisting competitive market and business principles onto our public services