Former ambulance worker describes 'toxic culture' at NEAS

  • Former NEAS worker speaks anonymously to ITV

A former ambulance worker has described a “toxic culture” where she witnessed “bullying, harassment and victimisation”.

The woman, who worked on the frontline, left the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) because she said she could no longer remain in that environment.

She spoke to ITV Tyne Tees under the agreement that she would be kept anonymous. We have given her the pseudonym Claire.

The culture at NEAS has been in the spotlight following an NHS England-commissioned review, led by Dame Marianne Griffiths, which was carried out following allegations that staff had covered up errors following the deaths of patients.

NEAS chief executive Helen Ray apologised to families affected following the publication of the report on Wednesday 12 July.

Describing the state of the service when she left, Claire said: "The crews are very disjointed away from the management. They feel that they're not listened to, there's no regard to them, that people are leaving."

She added: "I witnessed bullying and harassment and victimisation and total lack of regard for people's mental health and how they were feeling and I felt I couldn't work in a toxic culture any more."

Issues with the running of the North East Ambulance were highlighted earlier this year, when the health regulator, the Care Quality Commission, rated the trust overall as "requires improvement".

To the specific question "are services well-led?" the trust was rated as inadequate.

Among its findings, the CQC said staff "did not always feel respected, supported and valued."

The report also said that some employees "did not feel they could raise concerns without fear of blame or reprisal ... "

A subsequent CQC report, published on Friday 7 July acknowledged some positive changes.

For example, it noted "indications that some staff felt more confident in raising concerns" with steps taken to focus on "promoting the mental wellbeing of the workforce."

Helen Ray, chief executive of the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), apologised to families. Credit: PA

More broadly, Claire criticised the impact of targets which measure the performance of ambulance services across the country in terms of the time it takes to reach patients. 

She said: "They sort of hurry you up on that job and you think it's because they've got the next job waiting for you and the quicker we get these people dropped off at hospital or whatever we decide to do with them, that means we're free for the next job."

Claire left the service in the recent past and said she is still in touch with a number of her former colleagues.

She believed morale was still poor.

"Morale hasn't improved, not since I worked there," she explained. "There's more crews talking about getting the next job lined up because they don't want to work there any more and there's lots of people who I have seen who have left the service."

From Claire's perspective, the challenge of retaining staff ultimately has an impact on patient care.

"To me, how it's detrimental on the patients is that people are leaving,” she said. “They're either on the sick or they're leaving the job and that is detrimental to the patient because if you're not addressing any of them, the patient's going to suffer."

In response to the claims raised by the former member of staff, the Chief Executive of North East Ambulance Service, Helen Ray said, “Working in the ambulance service can be a challenging yet rewarding job.

“As stated this week we remain committed to taking action where concerns are raised. 

“We have a range of services to support the health and wellbeing of our staff, including a dedicated mental health practitioner.

“We know there is more to do to continue to support our people.  Both Dame Marianne Griffith and the Care Quality Commission acknowledged that we are actively making improvements.”

The North East Ambulance Service points to a range of "tools" now available to support employees' mental health, including online counselling, personal toolkits and trauma support staff.

Addressing the specific claims on the handling of calls, Ms Ray said: “We prioritise our resources to those in most urgent need. The public would expect nothing less of us. When lives are at stake, those calls must take precedence for obvious reasons.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...