‘A real wake-up call’ – MPs and health bosses demand changes at ambulance trust
PUBLISHED: 08:56 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:58 01 October 2020
A culture of “normalised” bullying, sexual misconduct and substandard leadership at the region’s ambulance trust “cannot go on”, MPs and health bosses have warned.
The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) could be plunged into special measures after inspectors found its leadership “fostered” abuse.
Health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), revealed in its new report that senior figures had failed to act when staff were accused of sexual predatory behaviour towards patients.
The watchdog discovered 13 instances of sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour by staff being reported to police, including allegations of workers abusing patients.
The investigation, in June and July of this year, came following tip-offs from seven whistleblowers about the safeguarding of patients and staff from sexual abuse, harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
The CQC’s inspectors concluded that some of the EEAST’s management were not up to the job, saying they lacked “adequate skills, knowledge and experience for their roles.”
On the basis of the inspection, the CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Ted Baker, has recommended that the trust be placed into special measures.
And now politicians and health campaigners from across Norfolk and Waveney have weighed in on the trust’s future, saying its raft of problems have continued for long enough.
Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, said the trust - which has been engulfed by various crises over the past decade - had been in “last chance saloon” for many years.
He highlighted the Marsh Report of 2013, a government review which made scathing assessments of the trust’s leadership.
“Another year, another damning report about the East of England Ambulance Service Trust,” said Mr Bacon.
“It is now more then seven years since the Marsh Report exposed shocking failures of leadership in the service.
“At that time I described the hardworking and caring staff at the trust as “lions led by donkeys”. It remains just as true today and now we have this appalling CQC report.”
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, added: “This is a really serious issue which has some awful and tragic elements to it.
“This should be a real wake-up call. Bullying and a negative culture are not anybody else’s fault. They lie at the door of those responsible and in charge.
“It really matters, both to staff and patients, especially at a time when the NHS is under enormous pressure. It is very important that the management now put this right.
“You would expect the trust to sort out what is needed very quickly because it clearly cannot go on like this. As a constituent MP, I would be happy to work with the trust and everyone else involved to find solutions.”
Healthwatch Norfolk, whose aim is to ensure public views are heard by those in charge of the county’s care services, has meanwhile called on the ambulance trust to reveal how it intends to improve.
Alex Stewart, the organisation’s CEO, added: “I was disturbed having read this report, especially regarding the lack of grip on the sustainable improvement of safeguarding.
“I thought the trust had moved towards a better culture, but unfortunately it appears not.
“The findings on bullying and sexually predatory behaviour, and the thought of already vulnerable patients being put into even more vulnerable positions, are very worrying from a patient safely point of view.
You may also want to watch:
“The trust has an appropriate action plan and I would like to see it - and to be assured that safeguarding, especially, is going to be treated with the utmost seriousness.
“Steps must be taken to ensure staff feel they have the ability and freedom to speak out. Other trusts have done it, and it has paid dividends.”
Mr Stewart added there was no indication the trust would be placed under government control, a suggestion previously made in relation to the failing Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).
Enforcing special measures means the EEAST would be given extra support by NHS England - and ordered to make changes.
Chief executive Dorothy Hosein had pledged to turn the troubled organisation around when she took over in 2018, but last year the CQC gave it the second lowest rating of “requires improvement”.
Its staff were, however, praised for providing “outstanding” care.
But Mr Bacon said the only way to solve the trust’s chronic deficiencies was a more widespread programme of reform.
“The health secretary needs to think very hard about whether it is possible to reform this organisation,” he added.
“I believe the idea that it might be capable of reforming itself has already been tested to destruction - it is too big and the culture is all wrong.
“The good people within the organisation are not listened to and the people at the top don’t know what they are doing and anyway frequently change.
“It should be abolished and replaced with smaller, more local and more accountable ambulance services in each part of East Anglia, run by good managers who stand up for their staff and cherish their amazing work in the way that the rest of us already do.
“I have asked the Matt Hancock to consider formulating proposals along these lines as soon as possible”.
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, welcomed the decision to put the trust into special measures - and said he looked forward to seeing “rapid improvements”.
He added: “The ambulance service is vital, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable. As such, the report from the CQC is extremely concerning; it is clear that there have been serious failings from the leadership of the trust.
“It is essential that quick action is taken to restore the public’s faith in such an important institution.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Norwich South MP, Clive Lewis, called the latest findings a “fully-fledged scandal”.
He said: “It is almost beyond comprehension how a service so trusted to come to our aid when we are at our most vulnerable could also fail to protect patients and staff from sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour and harassment.
“In the end, the buck for this kind of thing ultimately stops with ministers and central government. I have no doubt they will try and distance themselves from this failure and put it all down to a few ‘bad apples’ at a provincial NHS Trust.
“However, this is far from being an isolated incident and is also one of the many consequences of foisting competitive market and business principles onto our public services.”
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk, added: “This is a very concerning report that sets out disturbing findings about a failure of leadership and the culture.
“I met with other MPs from across the region, the CQC, and the NHS last week to review the action being taken to address these serious failings.
“Staff and the people they serve need to see a rapid improvement with further enforcement steps taken if that is not delivered.”
North Norfolk MP, Duncan Baker, said he was “extremely concerned” by the report, and pledged to work with the ambulance trust to discuss how improvements can be made.
He praised the paramedics and support staff who “work extremely hard” across the East of England.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.