A whistleblowing nurse from Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has told how she was physically threatened by colleagues after raising concerns about standards in the accident and emergency department.
Giving evidence to the public inquiry ito failings at the trust, Helene Donnelly said A&E was short staffed and lacked equipment when she joined in 2004, but problems worsened when its manager left in 2006 and a culture of fear developed under the two sisters who took over. Ms Donnelly said “massaging” waiting times figures to meet the four hour target was common.
After one particularly fraught shift in 2007 – during which she said she had been sworn at by one of the sisters and there had been a number of breaches of the four hour target – Ms Donnelly made a statement setting out her concerns.
Following this, the sisters were suspended and subsequently cleared of wrong doing by the trust. But Ms Donnelly said she faced criticisms from some of her colleagues for speaking out and was warned to “watch her back”.
She told the inquiry “threats to my physical safety were made” to the point where, after finishing a night shift, she would have a family member “come and collect me from work because I was too afraid to walk to my car in the dark on my own”.
Ms Donnelly also told the inquiry she contacted her local Royal College of Nursing representative Adrian Legan, who initially seemed shocked by what she told him but ultimately told her to “keep my head down”. She later found out he was also representing one of the sisters.
Asked if she thought the bullying stemmed from pressure to meet targets, Ms Donnelly said it was more to do with a “historical culture of poor care”.
“Sometimes it was just pure meanness and nastiness, targeted not just at staff but at patients as well, which I think was the thing that shocked me the most,” she said. “Having worked in other trusts – both before and since – it’s just something that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere.”
Both sisters, one of whom has since left the trust, are now being investigated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Last week the trust experienced fresh criticism when the Care Quality Commission issued it with a warning notice over staffing levels in A&E, following a visit in September that found it was short staffed with insufficient suitably qualified nurses on duty.