Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust’s policy for dealing with bullying and harassment is ‘not fit for purpose’, an independent review has found.
However, the report said that there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude that bullying and harassment was “endemic” at the West Midlands trust.
In March, the NHS Trust Development Authority commissioned the Good Governance Institute to investigate allegations of bullying at Worcestershire Acute.
It follows claims made by a former accident and emergency sister at the trust’s Alexandra Hospital in Redditch that nurses had left because of bullying and harassment.
The institute’s report, published today, said that the trust’s “dignity at work” policy for addressing bullying and harassment is “not fit for purpose, either as a document or in the way it is administered”.
The Good Governance Institute found “divergent views” among different teams at the trust as to what constituted bullying and harassment, which had exacerbated “inconsistent approaches to policy and to investigations”.
The report said interviewees at board and senior management level felt the trust’s culture was positive and did not include bullying and harassment. There was a feeling the terms had been “used by staff that did not want to be performance managed”.
“It is crucial that staff feel safe and supported when they raise concerns of this nature”
However, the review found the majority of staff interviewed “did not feel valued” and that people who made complaints had found the process “draining and painful”.
Many clinical staff who spoke to interviewers said they had expressed concerns about patient safety but had not been listened to, and concerns were raised that medical trainees did not always feel supported and part of the team.
One interviewee said the culture of the organisation was “rotten” and another said it was one of “systemic self-preservation”.
The report criticised the claim by senior management that bullying was being used as a “buzzword”, noting that if management started from the premise that bullying and harassment did not exist “it becomes very difficult to identify and address any possible causes”.
The institute also said it was concerned by what it had heard of “cases where people have been regularly shouted at”.
While interviewers had been told by some senior managers that this should be seen as “normal practice in a stressful environment”, the report said normalising this behaviour was “not acceptable”.
The review said there was insufficient evidence to conclude bullying and harassment was endemic but there were issues that required “immediate action”.
“We continue to receive contacts from victims of bullying, and there can be little doubt that abuse of staff is still a big problem”
It made a number of recommendations, including that the trust should make an explicit statement expressing zero tolerance of bullying and that an independent expert should be appointed to whom staff can refer their concerns.
The trust should also immediately review the dignity at work policy and reinstate exit interviews.
Chris Tidman, Worcestershire Acute’s new chief executive, said the trust accepted all the report’s recommendations.
“My board colleagues and I will do everything in our power to ensure we listen to staff, take their views seriously and ensure they feel safe and supported when they bring ideas to us, or raise concerns,” he said.
Jeffrey Worrall, portfolio director for the TDA, said it would work with the trust to make sure it delivered improvements.
He added: “It is crucial that staff feel safe and supported when they raise concerns of this nature, with a clear process to follow, and the recommendations are designed to improve the support available to them and their working environment.”
But Nigel Gilbert, chair of the local campaign group Betrayed By Thier Trust, said he was “expecting some serious action”.
“We continue to receive contacts from victims of bullying, and there can be little doubt that abuse of staff is still a big problem,” he said.