A damning report has highlighted serious allegations made against a hospital trust by its own staff.
A team of inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in response to concerns raised.
The CQC had been contacted by senior staff and the NHS Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Network and had also received anonymous information.
Their report, published yesterday, says inspectors were told some BME staff felt disadvantaged and at times were subject to racially motivated bullying and harassment.
Inspectors were also told there were “significant tensions” among staff.
Other concerns raised included outdated buildings and equipment, long waits in A&E, staffing levels and cleaning standards, which workers felt could have an impact on patient care.
The report also found evidence of one patient whose file indicated they had been on the acute medical unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with nausea and vomiting for 11 days because a bed was a not available on a ward.
It also found bed shortages meant getting patients in the right ward and right bed was often difficult.
The CQC held visits and “listening events” at the Royal Sussex and Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath in December and January.
They were designed to allow staff and patients to speak up about their views on the hospital ahead of a formal and full routine inspection of the trust next month.
While many staff across the trust told inspectors they were positive about how they worked and the care they were giving patients, some felt different teams dealing with the same patients needed to be working more closely together.
Inspectors were also told about the difficulties in working in outdated buildings and environments at the Royal Sussex.
Examples included a lack of equipment and storage space on a number of wards and poor connections between the various buildings at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, which meant long trips for patients needing to get from one department to another.
Patients were positive about the care and treatment they received and inspectors noticed examples of projects aimed at improving hospital stays.
This included a ward at the Princess Royal which had been adapted to help patients with dementia.
However, a number of patients told inspectors they felt there were not always enough staff on the maternity unit which resulted in workers appearing rushed.
Patients felt that their individual needs may not have always been met as a result.
CQC chief inspector of hospitals, Sir Mike Richards, said: “We carried out these visits because we’d received numerous reports of concerning information about the trust and we wanted to hear first-hand from staff and patients at the trust about their experiences.
“The majority of patients were positive about their experiences, as were a num ber of staff – although this was by no means universal.
“Being careful to maintain the confidentiality of those who raised their concerns with us, we have passed on our findings to the chief executive of the trust to investigate and report back to us.
“He is keeping us informed of progress, and we will continue to monitor trust services closely until we next inspect.”
GMB organiser Gary Palmer said: “Tensions are high among an ever pressurised, under resourced team of dedicated staff trying their very best to deliver both a professional and caring NHS patient service.
“What is heartening is that patients do recognise both the part hardworking frontline and support staff play in the provision of the positive care and treatment they receive.
“Yet they clearly see on occasions the effect funding cuts have when under-staffing is seen as the reason for the times that patients’ needs are not always being met within the acceptable medical and professional timescales that our members would like.
“It’s been the GMB’s and others arguments that the under-funding and overworked front-line healthcare provision go hand in hand, and will only get worse with more cuts to come. What sort of issue will the CQC be looking at if that happens?
Mr Palmer said the GMB have raised again only recently the trust's” non-existent” approach in tackling racism.
He said there was a failure to fully support the trust’s BME groups of staff who had put up with “racially motivated bullying and harassment on all levels” within the trust.”
Trust chief executive Matthew Kershaw said the trust had actively encouraged staff and patients to talk to the CQC about their views.
He said the trust was already using its findings to support work already under way to improve services, culture and the way it worked.
He said: “The concerns they highlight around the outdated environment are well documented and the majority will be addressed by our plans to modernise and redevelop the older parts of the Royal Sussex.
“We are optimistic that we will receive a decision about the funding for this project very soon.
“We are well aware that we have some long-standing difficult and complex cultural issues to address and a great deal of work is already underway to do so.
“We provided the CQC with details of the work being done to address some of these tensions, including the actions we are taking to address the specific issues we have around staff from BME groups.
“ Maternity units are often very busy which can lead to the perception that there not enough staff on duty but we have invested in this service and recruited more midwives to ensure we do have an appropriate midwife to mum ratio and we can give women the birthing experience they want.
“We will continue to work hard to build on the things we do well and, where we need to, make improvements to the serv ices we provide for all our patients.”