Midwifery boss loses appeal against West Suffolk Hospital over dismissal following bullying claims

West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: GREGG BROWN

West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: GREGG BROWN

A Suffolk midwifery boss accused of bullying her staff has lost an appeal over her dismissal.

An employment tribunal has awarded in favour of West Suffolk Hospital in a case brought by its former head of midwifery, referred to as Ms P Davis.

Ms Davis was laid off in January 2017 on grounds of gross misconduct after a disciplinary panel found she had exhibited, encouraged or tolerated managerial bullying of employees; failed to provide reasonable management support to her team; and had created a culture of fear where staff felt unable to speak out.

This came after the trust received three anonymous letters raising concerns about Ms Davis, who was appointed in 2000 and had an otherwise unblemished record.

Independent investigator Alison Dalby was brought in to look into the allegations, according to a Government report.

Witnesses interviewed told how they were discouraged by Ms Davis from raising safe staffing concerns through the Datix reporting system.

Daisy Hamilton, labour ward manager from January 2015, said staff worked extra hours, did not get proper breaks and often went 10 hours without anything to eat or drink.

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Midwife Jo Sarah said there was low staff morale in the department, telling Ms Dalby: “It’s a bit like domestic violence in the workplace – you become very weakened by it.”

Colleen Greenwood, also a midwife, said she felt bullied.

An employment tribunal was held as Ms Davis felt she was wrongfully and unfairly dismissed, but the case was won by West Suffolk Hospital.

Speaking after the trial, Jan Bloomfield, director of workforce and communications for the trust, said: “We take our culture and working environment very seriously, and we will always investigate and deal with claims of poor clinical leadership, unsafe practices and bullying, appropriately and robustly. We took swift action to deal with the serious issues of this case when they were reported to us.

“We are confident that this case is reflective of an individual’s behaviour, and is absolutely not representative of the culture of our maternity unit or the wider trust.”

Ms Bloomfield said better support mechanisms had been put in place for staff to raise concerns, including introducing a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian role.

She said latest staff survey results showed 20% of staff reported experiences of harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues, which was 5% lower than the national average, and an improvement on its score the previous year (25%).

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