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Norfolk mental health trust bosses discuss 'bullying' report in private – during 'public session'

The mental health trust serving West Norfolk is under fire after a report into a staff culture of "bullying and lack of respect" was discussed in secret.

The meeting of senior directors of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) yesterday was described as a "public session" in its agenda papers.

But, despite that, the public was barred from listening to the discussion – which officials confirmed would not be recorded – in a move campaigners claim there was "no reason" for.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is responsible for the Samphire ward in Lynn, which opened last year.
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is responsible for the Samphire ward in Lynn, which opened last year.

The report, which was unveiled ahead of the board meeting, described the trust’s environment as “characterised by bullying, disempowerment, lack of respect and unreasonableness.”

The trust, which has been dubbed the worst in England, holds board meetings ten times a year, and says on its website that “members of the public are welcome to attend meetings”.

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

A trust spokeswoman later said the meeting would not be recorded or subsequently broadcast, but that the trust would publish any decisions taken by the end of this month.

But Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, an independent group which represents the views of service users, said the trust’s actions were “concerning.”

He added: “It is disappointing that this meeting wasn’t held in public – and I’m concerned that the trust aren’t holding their meetings 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.”

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. If Ipswich hospital can manage to livestream a board meeting, why can’t NSFT?”

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.”

The report into bullying, which outlines the trust’s plans to create a “compassionate, connected and focused” organisation “with team working and learning at the heart of it”, states that NSFT aims to be in the top safety quartile by 2023.

And the report says culture change at the organisation “is led by the chair and chief executive”.

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. 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.”

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