Bullying investigation at Queen Alexandra Hospital uncovers hundreds of staff working in ‘toxic’ departments

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BULLIED staff working at Queen Alexandra Hospital are suffering in a ‘toxic’ atmosphere in some departments, a report has found.

Hundreds of staff confessed they have been victim to harassment or bullying behaviour during a nine-month probe this year.

Staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth have complained of a culture of harassment and bullying. Picture posed by models

Staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth have complained of a culture of harassment and bullying. Picture posed by models

Consultants barking orders, a worker berated in a store cupboard and racism were all highlighted.

In one case, a hospital worker told researchers: ‘That day, I was feeling particularly low (because of how they were treated) and I purposely cycled in front of a lorry. I went to my GP and was signed off for a month.’

READ MORE: Discrimination is a ‘potential area of concern’, says expert

In his report, Professor Duncan Lewis said: ‘This has to stop. Every employee, regardless of position or status has to behave to standards of common decency.’

Report author Professor Duncan Lewis

Report author Professor Duncan Lewis

Chief executive Mark Cubbon, who leads Portsmouth NHS Hospital Trust, commissioned the report and is currently leading a three-year cultural change programme.

Mr Cubbon said he accepts the report’s findings, and added ‘the behaviours described were found within pockets of the organisation’ and that just 40 people suffered repeated bullying.

READ MORE: QA staff reveal they ‘come to work crying’ and have confidence destroyed

But he said: ‘No member of staff should come to work and experience inappropriate behaviour or bullying of any sort and so it is clearly disappointing to read the negative experiences reported by some staff.

Chief executive Mar, Cubbon

Chief executive Mar, Cubbon

‘However I was pleased that those staff who contributed to the report stated that they have confidence in the executive team’s ability to address the issues.’

Mr Cubbon, who started the probe after being repeatedly told about workplace behaviour, added: ‘The changes required will not be implemented overnight and we are fully committed to ensuring our organisation is one where staff want to work and are valued for their contribution.’

Care minister and Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘Bullying in any form is completely unacceptable and I would expect the trust to take immediate and robust action to ensure their staff are being treated with respect and professionalism.’

While ruling bullying is not widespread and the Trust is well-led, Prof Duncan there was ‘often widespread incivility and disrespect between staff members’. He found:

Staff in some departments feared reprisals from speaking out – in line with findings made at Mid Staffordshire NHS hospital trust where hundreds of patients died in a scandal.

A third of 1,158 staff surveyed experienced bullying or harassment. Around 7,000 people work at the trust.

Some staff have ‘normalised inappropriate behaviours’ and when they happen without sanction it gives the message they are acceptable.

Consultants, managers and co-workers showed favouritism, ridicule, victimisation and intimidation, undermining, a lack of support, shouting and aggression and swearing and gesturing at the hospital.

Staff in one unidentified department were ‘petrified’ of taking part in focus groups with Prof Duncan over fears of reprisals telling researchers: ‘I will feel the backlash from this.’

Urgent work needs to be carried out in the unnamed department, with report authors taking concerns directly to the chief executive.

Trust culture was blame-based rather than learning-based. Some departments were ‘toxic’.

Siobhain McCurrach, strategic lead at Healthwatch Portsmouth, said: ‘We are shocked to hear about the prevalence of bullying at PHT. We are working with them on quality issues and this will be our strong focus.’

Prof Lewis has made 15 recommendations, including ending favouritism as a method of selecting managers, drawing up a contract of respectful behaviour and establishing a committee to analyse the use of existing methods of staff speaking out.

Medics said if problems with an extremely busy Emergency Department were resolved then the whole trust would be better.

One tearful group of staff interviewed said: ‘It is a challenging place to work due to the sheer volume of patients and the constant low-level lack of respect.’

Di Francis, Royal College of Nursing senior regional officer for South Hampshire, commended bosses commissioning the probe but said: ‘This report is tough reading. No member of staff should feel so scared that they are unable to speak out. It isn’t healthy for them and it isn’t helpful for patients.’

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission rated the hospital as requires improvement.

Discrimination a ‘potential area of concern’

INCIDENTS of racism were not common but did include a new starter being told: ‘We grow our own here.’

Professor Duncan Lewis said discrimination was a ‘potential area of concern’.

An incident included a non-UK consultant overhearing another consultant who said: ‘Send them back to where they come from.’

Another worker said: ‘Only English people should be allowed to do this job.’

And one said: ‘I don’t know why so many Asian doctors are coming to take our posts.’

The bullying report recommended ‘diversity and inclusion should be more prominent in trust strategies’.

Staff from ethnic minorities said they had been given menial tasks while white British staff refused to help even if they were the same grade and were not busy at the time. Other people reported conversations that were racist and sexist.

There were also ‘offensive and derogatory’ jokes and banter.

Little changed when managers were told, the report added.

Chief executive Mark Cubbon said racist comments were by individuals, and should ‘not be seen as representative of the views of all staff’. He added more is being done to listen to staff from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

Careers in ruins as staff ‘come to work crying’ and have confidence destroyed

UPSET staff have laid bare how bullying and victimisation at QA Hospital has left them dejected and isolated.

Examples given to Professor Duncan Lewis showed how staff had suffered panic attacks, inability to sleep, anxiety and depression after being subjected to inappropriate behaviour.

Some had been made to feel they were not welcome with a boys’ club culture.

People told investigators:

‘I am very angry that I have had to give up things – my home, my church, my choir, my friends’.

‘I feel isolated and alone. I have never felt so beaten and so sad. I care about the patients and the team I work with, but I have had every ounce of confidence knocked out of me’.

‘I come to work crying every morning. I am so scared. Whatever I do will be wrong. I can’t sit in the same room as her without shaking’.

Havant MP Alan Mak said: ‘While this report has broadly said that Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is “well-led”, it does raise some important issues on staff welfare.

‘I’m sure that the leadership team will be looking closely at the recommendations, and I support any action that can be taken to reduce workplace harassment and bullying.’

The report is due to be discussed at 9.45am today at the lecture theatre at QA Hospital.

Three-year programme bids to change culture at city hospital

SENIOR leaders at Queen Alexandra Hospital are battling to change its culture.

Bosses have appointed 15 members of staff to act as change agents, who have in turn spoken with around 300 staff.

Their work is part of a three-year project to overhaul the culture at the Cosham hospital.

A separate report being considered on the programme said: ‘Many staff just want an authentic “thank you” at the end of their day.’

It also pointed out that the watchdog the Care Quality Commission found that ‘staff, teams and services worked well together to provide effective care for patients’.

Portsmouth NHS Hospital Trust chief executive Mark Cubbon – who joined QA Hospital in July last year – said: ‘The trust leadership team is committed to responding to the report and we have already taken action to address the issues identified in some areas of the organisation.

‘In March we launched a Trust wide culture change programme and recruited 15 change agents who worked with groups of staff to identify what our current culture is and what we want it to look and feel like in the future.

‘Our new divisional leadership teams are working closely with those departments where pockets of negative behaviour were reported to better understand the root cause of these behaviours and take appropriate action.

‘Our vision is to be an organisation where we are all proud to work and where every member of staff is valued for the contribution they make.’

He added: ‘Work is ongoing across the trust to encourage an open culture which reflects our trust values.

‘We actively encourage all staff to speak up if they have concerns and have several means by which they can do so.’

Julia Barton, director of quality and nursing for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Partnership of Clinical Commissioning Groups, said trust ‘leadership is clearly committed to improving culture and behaviour’.

She added: ‘There is still much to do, but we are confident the Trust is facing up to the issue and tackling it head on.’

Comment: Despite this, we still love QA​​​​​​​

QUEEN Alexandra Hospital has had a difficult couple of years of late – there have been unfavourable reports from the Care Quality Commission, regular logjams in A&E, the collapse of its main PFI contractor Carillion and sadly recurring cash problems. 

However, while The News – as any local news organisation worth its salt must do – has covered the low times, we are well aware that we and our readers should not forget that the majority of people who pass through the hospital enjoy excellent care, for which they are very grateful. 

We launched the We Love QA campaign a year ago to highlight this fact, and have since featured dozens of stories of people who want to share how QA has changed – and in many cases saved – their life.

Indeed, it was only yesterday that the front page of three out of four editions carried the story of 75-year-old Melvin Louch, who was so grateful to doctors at QA who brought him back from the brink after two heart attacks, a stroke and kidney failure that he has started volunteering at the hospital, as his own way of saying thank you.

It’s not a contradiction that today we report the bullying that has been uncovered by researchers. 

We, like everyone in this city, want to have the best possible hospital for ourselves, our friends and our family. We know from experience that much of the care given at QA is superlative.

But, as has oft been said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Transparency is to be commended, and we hope that the worrying findings we report today are soon eradicated.