Study finds culture of bullying, sexism and harassment in ambulance service
South West ambulance staff subjected to a culture of bullying, discrimination, sexism and sexualised behaviour in the workplace deserve an apology, trade union leaders said yesterday.
Unison, which instigated the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust to commission an independent study into working for the organisation, says it is disappointed the trust’s chief executive has failed to issue an apology to employees.
The study has exposed the full extent of the behaviour, with staff admitting to being “too scared” to speak out. Some of those who did raise concerns report being victimised or penalised.
The “highly pressurised” environment staff work in is said to have created high levels of “incivility and disrespect” between all levels with the trust.
Unison says it was prompted to ask for the study to be conducted due to ongoing issues of bullying and harassment being reported by its members.
Last November, the trust agreed to pay for the full independent cultural review to be carried out by Professor Duncan Lewis, of Longbow Associates Ltd and Plymouth University, who is regarded as an expert in workplace stress, leadership/organisational behaviour, bullying and harassment research.
Prof Lewis was available to do the four-month study in April and all staff were invited to take part via a survey, and one-to-one telephone interviews were conducted.
Bullying and harassment was reported by one in five staff, with certain areas being identified as hot spots such as East Devon and Cornwall.
The trust’s chief executive has described the study as the most “important and significant report” he has read in 20 years, and says it has prompted the need for actions to change the culture within the trust. However, no apology was made to those staff who have been affected by unacceptable behaviour within the trust.
Unison branch secretary Chris Nelson said: “We want the trust to accept these things have happened to our members and apologise for the culture they have had to live in and endure for so long and to remedy it.
“Staff have welcomed the report as it validates a lot of concerns people thought they were experiencing. Last weekend I met with some exemployees and one thing that really stood out for me was one particular person who said he thought he was going mad because he was made to feel the problems he faced were imaginary. After being briefed on the report he feels happier because it shows they were real.
Trust chief executive Ken Wenman said: “The detail in Professor Lewis’ 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.”
He thanked staff for their “openness and bravery” in talking about their experiences.