Am­bu­lance chief urged to quit over ‘toxic’ cul­ture

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - News - MIKE SMALLCOMBE & JOHN BETT news@west­erndai­ly­

CALLS have been made for the head of the West Coun­try’s am­bu­lance trust to re­sign af­ter a re­port ex­posed a cul­ture of sex, bul­ly­ing and pornog­ra­phy within the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

A boys’ club cul­ture was dis­cov­ered within the ser­vice, with women be­ing re­ferred to as ‘fresh meat’ and ex­posed to porno­graphic ma­te­rial.

Bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment were also re­ported by one in five staff, and an anony­mous for­mer em­ployee said re­port­ing in­ci­dents was al­most im­pos­si­ble.

A for­mer em­ployee for the South Western Am­bu­lance Ser­vice NHS Foun­da­tion Trust, based in Ex­eter, Devon, has now called for its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Ken Wenman, to re­sign.

The ex-worker said: “I was so proud to work for the NHS and felt I had so much to of­fer when I joined.

“But it took only days to re­alise what a toxic en­vi­ron­ment it was.

“The turnover of staff in the head of­fice was un­be­liev­able and hardly any­one left to fur­ther their ca­reer. It was just to es­cape.”

The em­ployee said it be­came very dif­fi­cult to re­port bul­ly­ing and get a “good out­come”.

The turnover of staff in the head of­fice was un­be­liev­able FOR­MER EM­PLOYEE

“I felt I had to leave be­fore I did some­thing stupid, but I had ter­ri­ble sur­vivor guilt af­ter­wards know­ing that I had walked away and left my team to deal with what I had faced for the pre­vi­ous year,” they said. “Yet still Mr Wenman keeps his po­si­tion.”

The work­place cul­ture study was com­mis­sioned by Mr Wenman in part­ner­ship with the trade union Uni­son and was in­de­pen­dently car­ried out dur­ing a four-month pe­riod by Pro­fes­sor Dun­can Lewis, of Long­bow As­so­ciates Ltd, and Ply­mouth Uni­ver­sity. It de­tailed the full ex­tent of the be­hav­iour, with staff ad­mit­ting to be­ing ‘too scared’ to speak out and raise con­cerns.

Some of those who did re­port in­ci­dents were then vic­timised or pe­nalised. Women spoke of se­ri­ous in­ci­dents, such as be­ing phys­i­cally propo­si­tioned and be­hav­iours bor­der­ing on gross mis­con­duct or even sex­ual as­sault.

A ma­jor con­cern was ‘sig­nif­i­cant ten­sions’ across the trust with fric­tion or anger be­ing re­ported by two-thirds of staff be­tween col­leagues.

A se­ri­ous cause for con­cern in the re­port was an ab­sence of em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing among man­agers.

The con­se­quences of bul­ly­ing in­cluded sui­ci­dal thoughts and at­tempts, long-term sick­ness ab­sence and staff leav­ing the am­bu­lance ser­vice.

The trust has said it is de­ter­mined to drive out bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment in the work­place, but denied the re­port showed a cul­ture of bul­ly­ing.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Mr Wenman said: “We com­mis­sioned this re­view to learn more about these is­sues and we wel­come its find­ings. The de­tail in (the) re­port will as­sist us in un­der­stand­ing how we cre­ate pos­i­tive change and im­proved ex­pe­ri­ences for our peo­ple.

“In my view, this is the most im­por­tant and sig­nif­i­cant re­port I’ve read in 20 years.

“We com­mis­sioned this re­port to learn more, and I would like to thank all staff who took the time to par­tic­i­pate in the sur­vey.

“Your open­ness and brav­ery in talk­ing about your ex­pe­ri­ences will now in­form the ac­tions needed to change our cul­ture to the ben­e­fit of all of our peo­ple and in turn, the pa­tients we serve.”

The calls for Mr Wenman to re­sign mir­ror an in­ci­dent from Novem­ber 2017, when staff wrote an open let­ter say­ing the chief ex­ec­u­tive should go.

At the time, am­bu­lance staff across the South West called for Mr Wenman to re­sign as they strug­gled to main­tain a “crum­bling ser­vice” af­fected by Gov­ern­ment cuts.

The trade union be­lieved he was “fail­ing to ad­dress ma­jor is­sues and the toll from not do­ing so is hav­ing an enor­mous ef­fect upon in­creas­ing num­bers of staff ”.

The open let­ter also apol­o­gised to the pub­lic, fam­ily and friends, and the South Western Am­bu­lance Ser­vice Trust, for “po­ten­tially putting them at risk”.

Amy Beet, SWAST’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of peo­ple and cul­ture, said: “All of the ar­eas iden­ti­fied by the cul­tural re­view as hotspots for bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment have seen re­cent changes in se­nior lead­er­ship, with many of these oc­cur­ring since the com­mence­ment of the sur­vey.

This is the most im­por­tant and sig­nif­i­cant re­port I’ve read in 20 years KEN WENMAN

“These lead­ers will be sup­ported to take forward pos­i­tive ac­tion to ad­dress the is­sues iden­ti­fied within each of these lo­cal­i­ties.”

Tony Fox, chair­man of the trust, said: “Erad­i­cat­ing bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment is the trust board’s high­est pri­or­ity.

“There is no place for such be­hav­iour in this trust and the board will pro­vide over­sight and sup­port to en­sure that the ac­tions to ad­dress bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment are fully im­ple­mented and that a step change and sus­tained im­prove­ment is seen across the trust so that ev­ery em­ployee feels val­ued and is treated with dig­nity and re­spect.”

Gary Palmer, re­gional or­gan­iser for the GMB, said the union was look­ing forward to con­struc­tive talks go­ing forward with SWAST.

He said: “GMB do wel­come this re­port, al­beit over­due, and fol­low­ing a long, some­time rocky, re­sponse and re­la­tion­ship with SWAST and their part­ner union. But it’s how the re­port is re­ceived and ac­tioned by SWAST go­ing forward that GMB mem­bers and staff will judge them on.

“Our hope is that the re­port will not sim­ply be a smoke­screen and that we will see im­me­di­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion and full sup­port from the trust of all the rec­om­men­da­tions by Pro­fes­sor Dun­can Lewis.”

Ken Wenman says the re­port will help to bring about ‘pos­i­tive change’

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