Ambulance bosses knew about sex harassment scandal months ago

Dorothy Hosein, the chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST). Picture: Son

Dorothy Hosein, the chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST). Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The leaders of the region’s embattled ambulance service were aware of the sexual abuse scandal engulfing it several months ago but failed to take action, it has emerged.

The East of England Ambulance Service has been plunged into special measures following its latest CQ

The East of England Ambulance Service has been plunged into special measures following its latest CQC report. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Management at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) said this week they were “absolutely committed” to tackling sexual harassment and bullying after inspectors heavily criticised it. Thirteen staff members were reported to police for sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour against patients and other staff between March 2019 and April 2020.

•How long have they known?

A report from March to the EEAST’s board of directors, following the sudden deaths of three staff members in 2019, highlighted the problem of sexual harassment at the Trust.

It found that there was a “culture of tolerance and a long history of prolific and predatory sexual harassment within a specific base location at the organisation”. That base is understood to be Luton.

The March report said the Trust would “establish a programme of change and development to address the reports of sexual harassment and change the behaviours of staff and managers that enable it to thrive”.

The EEAST’s director of HR, director of communications, and chief operating officer were tasked with training staff by the end of August, the report said.

The Trust also said at the time it would “create a culture of zero tolerance” to sexual harassment. They said one way to tackle this would be by putting up posters and having screensavers on work computers.

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But when inspectors from the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), visited in June and July they criticised the Trust’s lack of action.

•How did the leadership respond?

The CQC found some members of the Trust’s executive team were “combative and defensive” when asked about sexual harassment.

They said those leaders argued that as “sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviours were endemic to the ambulance service nationally and as issues were historical, they could not be held accountable”.

Inspectors said: “There was a lack of recognition of the seriousness of the concerns and impact on patient and staff safety amongst the executive team.”

The CQC and EEAST also surveyed almost half of the Trust’s workforce to try to find out the extent of the problem.

They found staff were fearful of raising concerns, be it about sexual harassment or patient safety.

“We saw evidence that when staff had raised concerns they were not always taken seriously, appropriately supported or treated with respect,” the CQC said.

See also: MPs demand change at ambulance trust•What do staff say?

Just under 40pc of staff who responded to the survey accused the leadership of not encouraging a culture of openness and honesty, while the same amount said that leadership did encourage an open culture.

Bullying and harassment has been raised as problems in previous staff surveys and was spread across the region covered by the Trust.

The CQC said: “All regions responses included comments relating to bullying and harassment, and many comments related to bullying and harassment by managers.”

They said one reason for its failure to address this was an “ineffective” HR department which itself suffered from “poor leadership and bullying and harassment”.

The Trust has also had three different HR directors since 2019 - Lindsay Stafford-Scott, followed by an interim director called Yasmin Rafiq and John Syson who is the current interim director.

One employee, who has helped colleagues raise issues about sexual harassment and other concerns at the Trust, said: “Management say they take sexual misconduct seriously, but in my experience, anyone who raises concerns has a target put on their back.

“They find they are shunned and punished by management for trying to do the right thing. The leadership’s attitude to sexual misconduct has been appalling. They either need to drag themselves into the 21st Century or go.”

The Trust’s union, UNISON, meanwhile, said it was “not aware of any specific cases” of inappropriate behaviour, which the CQC mentioned in the report, but was “aware of issues”.

In a message to staff sent on Wednesday and signed by the “executive team,” the Trust pledged to deal with any safeguarding concerns “rapidly and appropriately”.

It said it would publish its action plan shortly. This month it is holding an “awareness month” to encourage staff to speak up.

The message to staff said: “We want to assure you that we have actions underway right now.”

This newspaper has asked for an interview with chief executive Dorothy Hosein, but an EEAST spokesman said she was busy “communicating with and supporting our staff and implementing our response to the CQC report”.

Following the report, the Trust is expected to be placed into “special measures”, meaning it will get extra support from NHS England.

•Who is in charge?

The EEAST is run by five “executive directors”.

Chief executive Dorothy Hosein joined in November 2018 from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and took up the £165,000-a-year role permanently last year. She has not yet made any public statements about this week’s CQC report, although the executive team has been privately briefing staff on the report.

The rest of the team is:

-Chief operating officer Marcus Bailey. He was appointed to the £130,000 role in 2019.

-Director of finance and commissioning, Kevin Smith. He has been in post since 2016 and his salary is listed in the Trust accounts as £115,000.

-Medical director, Dr Tom Davis. He has been at the Trust since 2016 and became medical director in 2018. He is paid £130,000 a year.

-Interim Director of Workforce, John Syson. He is on a year-long secondment from the Royal Papworth Hospital and joined in February 2020.

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