Ambulance trust in row with union over report which claims some staff are bullied and harassed
- Credit: Archant 2013
Hundreds of ambulance staff say they have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace - but bosses have responded by branding the evidence as inaccurate.
It comes after the union Unison published a report it commissioned into bullying and harassment at East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), which highlighted several concerns about the trust's culture and its impact on staff.
Among the findings were:
- The trust appearing to 'tolerate a bullying culture'.
- Delays in dealing with staff's grievances and complaints.
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- Managers leading internal investigations despite conflicts of interest.
But an EEAST spokesman hit back at Unison, saying there were shortcomings in the way the report was researched - and adding that there had been no increase in reports of bullying at EEAST according to the annual NHS Staff Survey.
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The report was based on a survey of 534 staff. The trust employs more than 4,000 staff including non-frontline workers.
Of those who responded to the survey, 322 said they had experienced workplace bullying or harassment, while 166 said they had experienced discrimination.
The report, by Andrea Adams Consultancy, said other findings included a perception that issues were 'swept under the carpet', a culture of nepotism at EEAST, and that the trust is not perceived to be a listening and learning organisation.
EEAST's Unison branch secretary Fraer Stevenson called on the trust to 'commit to genuine change' as a result of the report.
'It's vital that staff at every level feel able to speak out freely without fear of retaliation,' she said.
'But it's clear from the report that hundreds of our staff do not feel able to do that.'
'It's important the trust board hear the concerns of their staff from across the trust and support the recommendations in this report.
'This change needs to be modelled through their own behaviours and will require strong leadership.'
The trust is currently under pressure because it is missing response time targets amid claims from managers the demand is outstripping funding.
One of the areas with the worst ambulance response times in the country is north Norfolk.
The region's MP, former health minister Norman Lamb, called on trust chiefs to 'respond positively' to the report.
'The leadership must take immediate steps to act on its recommendations,' he said.
'It is unacceptable to allow such concerns to be dismissed, swept under the carpet, or met with retribution.
'Failure to eliminate wrongdoing not only has a damaging impact on the wellbeing of staff, but it ultimately puts patients at risk.'
The trust responds
EEAST says the report contains 'a number of inaccurate and unrelated statements'.
A spokesman said its annual NHS Staff Survey findings show no increase in bullying and harassment, and that its results were 'broadly comparable' with other ambulance trusts.
They pointed out that bullying and harassment was not highlighted as a key issue in its Care Quality Commission inspection report last year.
'We will be responding to Unison raising our concerns, including the motivations behind this report,' the spokesman said.
The spokesman said an assessment of the survey had found it lacked reliability and validity.
This assessment was carried out by Zeal Solutions, the company which the trust commissioned to undertake its 'cultural audit' last year.
'Zeal Solutions have identified a number of shortcomings in how the survey questionnaire was constructed, the lack of sensitivity to ensure accuracy, and by extension the data it produced,' the spokesman added.
'That aside, we do not discount the impact that bullying can have on staff if it's experienced, and many of the recommendations from the Unison report are already being addressed.
'These actions have already seen our staff turnover decrease to a point where we currently have the second lowest levels of attrition in England and our staff survey results have also improved.'