The Black and Minority Ethnic Network at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust has taken a vote of no confidence in the trust’s leadership and has set up a petition calling for the board to step down.
The network claims BME staff are being subjected to “unprecedented levels of racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation” under the current leadership.
“The NHS is failing BME staff and patients on racial grounds and evidence of this is most apparent at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust”
A trust spokesman has said its management “strongly refute” the claims.
He added that the petition is being circulated by “a small group of staff” and follows the outcome of an independent investigation in relation to “misconduct”. The staff are seeking to appeal this outcome.
The Care Quality Commission was told about “racially motivated bullying and harassment” by staff at the trust when inspectors visited in April 2014.
During the inspection, then CQC chair David Prior visited the trust on the invitation of Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé, chair of both the national and local NHS BME networks, to hear the concerns of staff members in the local network. She is also associate director of transformation at the trust.
The local network has made several complaints in its petition. These include:
- A manager who was dismissed for racial harassment was reinstated on the grounds it was her first offence. She was eventually paid to leave the trust following objections from BME staff
- Another manager, who purportedly showed a black member of staff a picture of a monkey, was initially only required to complete equality and diversity training. However, an appeal panel found there was a case for the manager to answer and following a disciplinary hearing she was dismissed
The network also claims that a grievance against Dr Lyfar-Cissé brought by a member of staff has led to the trust appointing a barrister to reinvestigate a claim that has already been investigated and dismissed externally.
A trust spokesman agreed the first investigation did not uphold the complaints against Dr Lyfar-Cissé “but it was critical of her and said she had behaved unacceptably”.
The trust spokesman said a second investigation was launched because both Dr Lyfar-Cissé and the employee who had reported the grievance were “highly critical” of the findings from the first investigation.
The second investigation “found a case to answer” in relation to allegations against Dr Lyfar-Cissé and eight other network members, including that they had “directly discriminated against, bullied and victimised a member of their own network”, the spokesman said.
“The trust board and leadership team commits substantial resources to positive and proactive race equality initiatives, including significant support to the BME network”
The members want to appeal this decision and the trust’s chair, Julian Lee, has said he will chair the appeal with the help of the human resources department.
The network says this contradicts the trust’s grievance policy, which says appeals should be overseen by a manager unless agreed otherwise. The staff have told Mr Lee they do not accept him as the chair of the appeal.
Dr Lyfar-Cissé is taking this case to an employment tribunal for “discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of race”.
In a separate incident, the trust successfully applied for a High Court injunction against four BME doctors.
A trust spokesman said: “We strongly refute these claims. The trust board and leadership team commits substantial resources to positive and proactive race equality initiatives, including significant support to the BME network itself.
“We are also confident that policies relating to discrimination issues are fairly applied,” he said. “There are many recent examples where we have taken disciplinary action in cases where race discrimination has been identified, and we will continue to do so.
“We must, however, be equally able to investigate and take the appropriate action in cases where misconduct or discrimination is alleged against BME staff using the same policies and processes as apply to all employees,” said the spokesman.
He added: “The trust believes the petition is being circulated by a small group of staff and follows the outcome of an independent investigation in relation to misconduct. The trust will not comment on individual employment cases, which are confidential.
“However, the trust is clear that the purported facts which are being used to justify the petition have been selectively assembled to create an inaccurate impression,” he said.
But Dr Lyfar-Cissé said: “The NHS is failing BME staff and patients on racial grounds and evidence of this is most apparent at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust.
“It is clear from the evidence that trust policies are not being applied fairly. I am one of the BME cases referred to by the trust and it is a fact that a first external investigator found that the allegations of misconduct against me could not be upheld,” she said.
“The trust then appointed a QC to reinvestigate the allegations against me and she found me guilty together with eight other BME staff who had lodged their own collective grievance,” said Dr Lyfar-Cissé.
“We have been denied the right to appeal because the chair Mr Lee is insisting on hearing the appeal contrary to trust policy,” she said. “The internal processes have not been concluded and these matters are also now the subject of an employment tribunal.
She added: “It is the case that the trust has dismissed staff for racial discrimination, however this of itself is not evidence that trust polices are being applied fairly when one considers the circumstances which gave rise to these dismissals as outlined in the network’s petition which is supported by the membership.”
Local BME network petition and information provided to HSJ