Emergency Services News has learnt that the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) has launched an internal investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment within the Trust.
Over the last two weeks, Emergency Services News has heard from over 15 employees within EEAST who have claimed that either they or their colleagues have experienced bullying in some form or another.
The allegations have been made against some elements of senior management from within EEAST.
A source within the Trust told ESN:
‘Each week, there is a leadership message; this week says there is being an investigation into bullying and harassment.
‘Several EEAST staff had anonymously commented on it saying that they don’t feel supported and that the Trust doesn’t care.
‘There were lots of long detailed comments about how people were feeling and what was going on.
‘The trust has removed all the comments and turned off the comment function’.
ESN understands that some frontline staff have also been ‘threatened’ with having their incentive payments withdrawn if they go off work with sickness.
Incentive payments are made to staff on top of overtime payments when staffing levels are short.
However, in a month of incentives, staff are not allowed to go off sick or to cancel any overtime that’s already been booked, otherwise they lose all their incentives for that month.
As an example, if a staff member has worked 5 overtime shifts then ends up getting assaulted on duty meaning that they have to take some time off work to recover from the assault, then the staff member concerned will lose this money.
This could equate to around £1000 of money being lost owing to circumstances which are beyond the control of ambulance crews.
Due to the significant workload being experienced by ambulance crews, many staff have felt that they have had no option other than to go off work with sickness to try and look after their mental health.
ESN has also heard from several sources within the Trust who have also confirmed that they too have been put into a position where they have been told that ‘their colleagues will suffer’ should they take time off with sickness.
ESN understands that the Trust has hired Martin Tiplady to look into allegations of bullying.
Martin Tiplady OBE has previously held the position of HR Director at the Metropolitan Police, and ESN understands that he has also prior held a senior position within the Trust.
EEAST Ambulance crews have also alleged that they are not being given their 45-minute breaks during shifts — which can last up to 14 hours.
One source told us:
“We are meant to have 45 minute meal breaks, but the last 15 mins are forcibly disturbable.
“This means that we only normally get 30 mins. I can’t remember the last time I had the full 45.
“I can’t speak for other areas of the trust, but where I am we always get our 30 mins.
“It’s the extra 15 that we never get”.
Crews have also claimed that control room supervisors are calling them if they remain on scene with patients for more than 30 minutes.
This measure — called ‘Patient Pathway Calls — introduced by the Trust, is supposed to offer ambulance crews advice on ‘pathways’ to help expedite the appropriate treatment that can be provided to the patient.
However, crews have claimed that this measure has been introduced to put pressure on them to put themselves back ‘in service’ so that they can respond to more calls.
In 2017, the Trust was accused of putting patient safety at risk because of a “fixation” with hitting response time targets, using a practice referred to as “stopping the clock” – sending a rapid response vehicle to a call within the target time, leaving the patient to wait longer for the arrival of an ambulance.
The Trust is one of the poorest performing in England on most urgent response times and has previously considering employing military drivers and volunteer drivers due to staff shortages.
Proposals made in August 2018 to restrict staff holiday leave between 12 November and 12 January were greeted with a storm of protest.
The Trust previously decided sometimes to ask one ambulance to deal with two patients.
At the time, a senior Trust paramedic stated,
“It’s desperate. I’ve never heard anything like this. A paramedic might have a clinically stable patient on board, but if that patient then becomes unstable and you’re sitting on the scene with perhaps two unstable patients, what do you do?
“Do you separate one of them from the equipment? Who do you pick?”
In 2018 the Trust said it would need 100 more paramedics to meet the new ambulance performance standards.
This could cost £5 million a year.
Ambulance crews from EEAST have also stated that they often have to make blue-light runs over a distance of 70 miles, only to be stood down just before arriving on scene before being sent to another call in their station area.
In 2019 the Care Quality Commission reported that ambulance services were relying on private providers because of lack of capacity.
The EEAST spent £9.5 million on private ambulances for 999 and non-urgent work in 2018/19; double the amount paid the previous year.
Following recent cutbacks, the East of England Ambulance Service now covers ambulance services in the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
These areas consist of 5.8 million people and 7,500 square miles.
A spokesperson for EEAST told ESN:
“The East of England Ambulance Service Trust takes all allegations of harassment and bullying extremely seriously.
“Through our values as an organisation, we encourage a working environment of openness and honesty that embraces staff, volunteers and external partners.
“We listen to concerns expressed by staff and learn from and share our experiences.
“In line with our whistleblowing policy and NHS national guidelines we can confirm that following concerns raised by some staff members we immediately commissioned an independent investigation into these claims.
“We are keeping NHS England and NHS Improvement up to date with progress.”
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