Union reps at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust have told of a culture where staff were too scared to speak out due to a “draconian” director of nursing.
Royal College of Nursing officer Adrian Legan told the public inquiry into failings at the foundation that he felt “intimidated” by director of nursing Jan Harry’s approach which “cascaded down through the nursing hierarchy”.
The inquiry, which is looking into why problems at the trust had failed to be picked up sooner, also heard from bereavement counsellor Kath Fox who was the Unison representative at the foundation.
She said: “Jan Harry was very much a barrier coming forward and was seen as very draconian… It’s a culture of the trust, and I hate to use that word so much, because everybody’s using it, but it was just not the thing that you did.
“It didn’t matter whether you were a nurse, a housekeeper, a porter, you didn’t stick your head above the parapet.”
In her statement to the inquiry Ms Fox described how she had felt threatened by then chief executive Martin Yeates and believed meetings were taking place between Mr Legan and trust management outside the forum of the joint negotiating and consultation committee (JNCC).
She said: “Sometimes when issues were raised the RCN or Adrian Legan would already have been satisfied by a conversation between RCN and the management.
“It seemed like discussions were taking place with management outside the context of the JNCC, which undermines the JNCC role.”
Quizzed on the accusation by the counsel to the inquiry Mr Legan described it as a “very fair comment”. But he said the conversations were around issues involving senior nursing staff at the trust who were also RCN members.
He said: “There were no back door conversations.”
The RCN currently has 501 members at the trust while Unison represented about 800 staff during the period 2005 to 2009 which the inquiry is focusing on.
The inquiry heard how the unions had raised concerns about proposed changes to skill mix and redundancies but had felt ignored by management, prompting Ms Fox to contact the local MP.
Last month the inquiry heard how more than 500 concerns raised by staff between 2005 and 2009, many of them about staffing issues, could not be found.
In evidence to the enquiry RCN, Unison and Unite all said they were not aware of the complaints.
Mr Legan said he was shocked by the figure but pointed out it worked out as about 12 concerns every three months.
He added: “But it still alarms me that that degree of concern was being raised consistently and not acted upon.”
Unison head of health Karen Jennings told the inquiry she found the trust to be a “stagnant” place when she visited after the publication of the Healthcare Commission’s report in 2009.
She said: “The hospital stood in isolation, like a psychiatric hospital which is set in a community but has no outside contact. The trust is a big employer in the region with not a lot of turnover of staff. New ideas were not coming in. It was a stagnant place, a culture emerged where nobody knew any different.”