Ambulance trust failed to act properly on sex assault and harassment complaints, say inspectors
The ambulance trust serving West Norfolk has been put into special measures after bosses failed to ensure the safety of staff and patients.
Inspectors say managers of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) were aware of at least 10 incidents relating to allegations of sexual assault, harassment or inappropriate behaviour, but did not respond properly.
And, although bosses have pledged to move quickly to address the failings, the trust has also been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in light of the findings.
The conclusions follow an inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which took place in late June and the first part of July.
The CQC said it conducted the assessment in response to concerns raised by whistleblowers and others about safeguarding.
A summary of the inspection evidence released by the CQC says it received seven whistleblowing concerns from staff between August of last year and July this year.
It added: "The board was aware of at least ten incidents that had occurred from April 2019 to March 2020 that related to serious allegations of sexual assault, harassment or inappropriate behaviours.
"However, they had failed to take appropriate actions to ensure the safety of patients and staff.
"There was evidence that in some areas of the organisation there was acceptance of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviours."
The CQC also highlighted a report which EEAST had itself commissioned into serious incidents which occurred last November.
It said:"The report included reference to a collusive approach of managers and staff who knew of sexual harassment and acceptance of this as normalised behaviours which perpetuated an unacceptable working environment for those recipients of the unwarranted behaviours."
Ted Baker, the CQC's chief inspector of hospitals, said staff had been deterred from speaking out by the "combative" approach of some leaders.
He added: "This fuelled a negative culture, where bullying was normalised, and put patient and staff safety at risk."
An anonymous survey of trust staff also found that 39 per cent of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the suggestion that senior leaders encouraged a culture of openness and honesty, compared to 38 per cent who agreed.
However, 70 per cent of respondents said they were "proud" to work for the trust.
The CQC has ordered a number of improvements, including:
• Implementing effective systems to identify and assess safeguarding issues, and monitor staff Disclosure and Barring Service renewals
• Reviewing policies to deal with allegations made against staff
• Undertaking adequate pre-employment checks
• Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of subcontracted private ambulance services and their staff
• Actioning the findings of its review into inappropriate behaviours and implementing effective processes to manage concerns, grievances and disciplinaries
• Ensuring all required oversight and governance arrangements are in place
• Addressing long-standing concerns regarding bullying and harassment within the organisation.
The new report comes little more than a year after the trust was last inspected.
On that occasion, it was deemed to require improvement, but the CQC says that rating is unchanged because the latest assessment focused on the concerns that had been raised.
In response to the report, EEAST said it had already updated its safeguarding policies, increased support and mentoring for staff with concerns and introduced more robust complaints procedures.
It said it would also be conducting its own staff survey and doing more to encourage people with concerns to speak out over the coming weeks.
Trust chairman Nicola Scrivings said: “Today’s report calls out where we need to improve and we will now do everything possible, as fast as possible, to make the improvements required.
“We are working closely with the CQC, NHS colleagues and other partners to take action right now to address these concerns and put this right for the long-term.
“The trust aims to provide outstanding quality of care and performance for patients and be an exceptional place to work, volunteer and learn.
"In a message to staff today, the executive team has again reinforced its commitment to listen to and support anyone who raises concerns.
“It is clear from the CQC staff survey that the majority of staff at the Trust are proud to work for EEAST. The role of the leaders is to make sure every member of the team feels that pride, with the support and culture they deserve.”