The NHS Trust Development Authority is to review claims that a culture of bullying at Worcestershire Health and Care Trust “wrecked careers and lives”.
The regulatory body has confirmed it will look into four cases involving claims of harassment and bullying by managers at the trust and its predecessor organisations, Worcestershire Mental Health Partnership Trust and the provider arm of Worcestershire Primary Care Trust.
The cases include that of a retired community psychiatric nurse Ingra Kirkland – previously featured in Nursing Times – who was allegedly forced out of her job because of unfair treatment and “bullying”.
“We will continue to work proactively with our staff to ensure that our culture is open”
Ms Kirkland has been the focus of a long-standing campaign to restore her reputation, resulting in the formation of the campaign group Betrayed By Their Trust (BBTT), which has pushed to have her case and others formally investigated.
The trust has strongly refuted the allegations. But Nigel Gilbert, chair of the campaign group and also Ms Kirkland’s husband, claimed managers were “in denial”.
He welcomed the review and the fact the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) appeared to be taking campaigners’ concerns seriously.
“BBTT submitted information regarding four cases of wrecked lives and careers of former staff of Worcestershire Health and Care Trust to the TDA,” he said.
“I was informed by [TDA] chief executive David Flory that he agreed to undertake a review of those four cases to see if there is evidence of a culture of bullying, as we claimed.
“BBTT welcomes the fact that after a year of dialogue, the TDA is finally viewing what we say with some seriousness,” he added.
The TDA said the review would look at the four cases in detail, as well as wider claims about the organisation’s culture.
“We can confirm that a preliminary review will be commissioned to assess these cases and the broader allegations around the culture of the organisation,” it said in a statement.
Trust chief executive Sarah Dugan has defended the trust’s record but said it would work with the TDA on the review.
“It is very difficult for us to respond in public about individual cases, as we are not prepared to breach confidentiality,” she said.
“We have noted the allegations made by BBTT and would refute them. We are only aware of three cases – two of whose employment ended in 2010 with the former mental health partnership and one whose employment ended in 2011,” she added.
“We will continue to work proactively with our staff to ensure that our culture is open and transparent and will cooperate fully with the TDA preliminary review,” said Ms Dugan.
Union staff side representatives have spoken out in support of trust management, maintaining the organisation has strived to develop an open culture where staff feel confident in raising concerns.
“We have witnessed first-hand how seriously the trust takes any claims made by colleagues in relation to unacceptable behaviour from other staff, including those in senior positions,” they said in a statement.
“We support the trust’s senior management in continuing to promote this culture and we are confident that any suggestions of widespread bullying or harassment within this trust are inaccurate and not a fair reflection of the current organisation,” they added.
The BBTT group has also raised concerns about bullying at the neighbouring Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust where a separate inquiry is under way into how it deals with reports of bullying.