The region’s mental health trust has been criticised for discussing in private a report into its staff culture of “bullying and lack of respect” - at a meeting meant to be open to the public.

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAlex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY (Image: Archant)

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), branded the worst mental health trust in England, unveiled a report on its staff culture ahead of a meeting of senior directors, held on Thursday, May 21.

The report described the trust’s environment as “characterised by bullying, disempowerment, lack of respect and unreasonableness.”

The trust, which remained in special measures following its latest inspection in January this year, has been slammed for the “disappointing” move of holding discussions behind closed doors.

The trust holds board meetings ten times a year, and says on its website “members of the public are welcome to attend”.

However, at Thursday’s meeting, held remotely via Microsoft Teams, the public were barred from listening in - despite the agenda describing it as a “public session”.

A trust spokeswoman said the meeting would not be recorded or subsequently broadcast, but any decisions would be revealed by the end of May.

READ MORE: ‘Got away with it’ - NHS manager gloated about coverage of dead great-grandmother

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said the trust’s actions were “concerning” and added: “It is disappointing this meeting wasn’t held in public but we do understand the reasons why NHS England have suggested full meetings aren’t held due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We would urge the public to continue posing questions, as they are able to do.”

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said they were “incredibly disappointed”.

They said: “How is a board meeting public if the public can’t observe what’s going on?

“It is a decision they’re making. There’s no reason not to make it public. They have had two months to get ready for this.”

READ MORE: Governor quits with blast at mental health trust

They added: “This is actually an opportunity for the trust that covers such a large geographical area to engage with people better.

“It should be an opportunity to increase access by streaming the meeting, but rather than take that opportunity they’re not even letting anyone in. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

The trust’s spokeswoman said: “We are fully committed to being a transparent organisation in our decision making, and public board meetings are an important part of this process.

“We are trialling the technologies so people can play a part and will be answering any questions by Saturday, May 30.”

READ MORE: Mental health service sends letter to 300 young people removing them from waiting list

Problems highlighted in the report included:

• A poor leadership culture,

• Lack of respect and shared values and a top down culture,

• A pattern of discrimination,

• And complaints of harassment and bullying.

The report says NSFT wants to change its culture by developing leadership and embedding its values in “signature behaviours”.

The mental health campaign spokesperson said the report was “unbelievable” and added: “This isn’t something they’ve just discovered.

“It’s an issue with top down bullying management.

“They have been publishing reports that say they have this bullying culture for five years.

READ MORE: ‘I was left to fend for myself’: Young people highlight long waits for mental health treatment

“Rather than just having reports every now and then they should do something about it.

“They have an issue with racial discrimination with BAME staff treated really badly and there’s huge gender inequality in terms of management and pay.”

The NSFT spokeswoman said: “There has been longstanding cultural issues in NSFT and we have worked hard with our staff to address some of these. Our recent CQC report noted early improvements in the engagement of our staff and this paper is outlining our approach to continue this improvement as we go forward.”

“Part of this report recognises the fundamental point that we need to better support people who are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. So far, we have launched the Expect Respect campaign in January, taken part in a reverse mentoring programme and have an active BME group. We are proud of all our staff and the tremendous efforts they have put in during this pandemic.

“All staff are subject to national terms and conditions.”

READ MORE: Doreen Livermore case: Mental health trust has messed up its own message