Why is the bullying review at Birmingham and Solihull hospitals so important?

PA Image of Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the largest hospital in the University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust. Credit: ITV News

A review into patient safety at hospitals in Birmingham and Solihull has found reports of bullying among the concerns published today.

NHS England in the Midlands is overseeing three reviews on the culture, leadership and patient safety issues at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The ombudsman has previously raised concerns about the reviews' transparency and independence.

Why has this report been commissioned?

The Bewick Report was ordered last year following damning claims about a culture of bullying and threats of disciplinary action against whistleblowers at University Hospitals Birmingham.

That triggered an outpouring of negative testimony from upwards of 50 current and former consultants, doctors and other UHB staff raising similar concerns. Healthwatch Birmingham and local MPs, led by Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham Edgbaston) took up their case.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said they found "very serious" patient safety issues at UHB based on the trust's response to their recommendations.

They said it has received more than five hundred complaints about the trust in the last two years, and had evidence of avoidable patient death at its hospitals. This led to the first ever use of the new Emerging Concerns Protocol in August last year.

“Our decision to trigger the Protocol was not taken lightly, but we had significant concerns about the Trust," said Behrens.

He continued by saying “it’s vitally important that the NHS learns from its mistakes. To do that, there needs to be a culture of openness, not defensiveness."

Have we heard from anyone directly involved?

The father of a doctor who killed herself, blaming the Queen Elizabeth hospital that she worked in, told ITV News Central that change is needed at the Trust to avoid the same thing happening to others.

Dr Vaishnavi Kumar is pictured with her parents. Credit: ITV News Central

Dr Vaishnavi Kumar took her life last June aged 35. Her father Dr Ravi Kumar said: "Summing up in the last paragraph she said, 'it's all because of the QE and she apologised for what she is doing, she said she can't take it anymore.'"

The inquest into her death also found some other issues that had been troubling her, including a recent family bereavement but her father said that there were ongoing issues with her training, and her friends said she had spoken to them in more detail about her workplace.

"It's the work culture, where some consultants were very belittling and condescending and when she was handing over in the mornings they would roll their eyes like that and even laughing at her, that kind of stuff.

"She was a very senior and well respected trainee and everybody said she had very good knowledge of the subjects."

Why has this report been delayed?

The hospital's Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, is currently the subject of three reviews looking at allegations made by whistleblowers in recent news reports and broader leadership and cultural issues at the Trust. 

The first review was promised by the end of January and then expected today but is still yet to be published.

The ICB who are doing the reviews said today that the first one has been done but the delay in publication is so that some organisations and individuals can respond.

How many reports will there be?

This is the first of three reports looking into the allegations. Fuller reports into governance and culture of the trust are expected to be finished in the summer.

What has University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said about it?

Following the publication of the first report today, Jonathan Brotherton, Chief Executive at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Patients can continue to be confident that the care and treatment provided at our hospitals is safe. We are pleased that Prof Bewick’s overall view ‘is that the Trust is a safe place to receive care’.

“We fully accept his recommendations and welcome the additional assurance that has been asked for through further independent oversight.

“There are a number of significant concerns that we need to, and have started to, address; we will continue to learn from the past, as we move forward.

“We want to develop a positive, inclusive work environment where people want to come to work, in a place that they are proud to work in, to do their very best for our patients. While we will not be able to fix things as quickly as I would like, we do need to do it as quickly as possible, for the benefit of patients and staff; I am committed to ensuring this happens.

“We must now focus on continuing to provide the best possible patient care, building a values-led culture and supporting our incredible colleagues.”