Health Secretary urged to intervene amid hospital ‘bullying culture’ claims

The Health Secretary is being called on to intervene after senior doctors raised concerns about a hospital trust’s handling of bullying complaints.

Medical trade union the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) has written to Matt Hancock (pictured), amid allegations by senior clinicians of a “culture of bullying and intimidation” by executive leadership at Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.

The organisation, which represents hospital clinicians, has taken the step after members called a recently published independent review into allegations by law firm Capsticks a “whitewash”.

The review looked into issues contained in a whistle-blowing letter sent last year by 42 consultants to the trust’s then-chair and NHS Improvement.

The letter spoke of the need to “raise concerns about the senior management team” including Dudley Group chief executive Diane Wake.

Senior clinicians also said they held executive management responsible for what they called the “striking deterioration in the clinical and financial performance of the trust”.

They concluded by saying they “no longer had confidence in the executive director team”.

The independent review, published in May 2019, found no “systemic culture of bullying and intimidation by the trust leadership”.

But following a meeting of the union, its members and four local MPs, HCSA president Dr Claudia Paoloni has written to tell the Health Secretary the review had “failed to restore confidence” and has “had a detrimental impact on morale”.

In one example of what the union claimed were the report’s shortcomings, it cited reliance on “selective” 2017 NHS Staff Survey figures, despite the then-current data for 2018 being available in time for the review’s publication.

The union said members felt “deflated and betrayed”, adding that the review had done nothing to eliminate the “fear of speaking up” about issues which may affect patient safety.

The HCSA said its members believe the report is considered by the trust – wrongly in its view – to have exonerated the leadership.

Concluding the letter, Dr Paoloni said: “These issues taken collectively have fatally undermined the trust of doctors in this process and in our opinion represent an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the facts.

“While we are of course deeply concerned about the impact that this will have on staff at the hospital, ultimately it is patients who will suffer if the serious issues at Dudley are not addressed.”

She has asked for the Health Secretary to meet with complainants to detail their concerns.

The development comes against a backdrop of inspections of the trust by health watchdog the CQC, which has seen it maintain a Requires Improvement rating for the last two years.

In the most recent visit, inspectors downgraded their safety rating of the trust’s main Russells Hall site in Dudley to Inadequate, because of concerns about emergency and urgent care and diagnostics.

Responding, the trust’s chief executive Ms Wake said the executive team had “fully accepted the conclusions and recommendations” of the review report and continued to work on its improvement plan.

In the wake of the report’s publication, she added that NHS England and NHS Improvement were helping to “strengthen our freedom-to-speak-up arrangements”.

She said a dedicated team was continuing, with drop-in sessions for trust staff.

Ms Wake said: “Senior leadership have had ongoing dialogue with the consultant body and the majority of people we talk to are just as committed as the leaders to move the trust forward to support an open, transparent culture and improve patient care.

“We continue to promote a safe culture with open two-way communication to ensure all staff feel valued and supported in providing quality care for our patients.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Nobody should have to face bullying or harassment in the workplace and this type of behaviour has no place in our NHS.

“We take these kinds of reports very seriously and, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we’re committed to making the NHS a better place to work, by ending discrimination, bullying and harassment and making it even easier for staff to raise concerns.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.