HIGH LEVELS of inappropriate sexual behaviour and bullying have been found in the county’s ambulance service.

The leadership at South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb) has been branded inadequate, after the service failed to deal with concerns from staff.

A report published today by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s independent health and social care regulator, found serious issues in the trust.

It said that “worrying levels” of concern were present in the organisation’s culture – after issues raised by staff had been ignored.

“It was clear from surveys and the number of whistle-blowers we talked with there was a potentially closed culture developing,” the report states.

The Argus: The CQC found examples of bullying in the ambulance serviceThe CQC found examples of bullying in the ambulance service

“Staff told us they feared reprisal for raising concerns. When we asked staff to describe the culture of the trust the word ‘toxic’ was frequently used.

“We found high levels of bullying and harassment, inappropriate sexualised behaviour, and a high number of open grievances. Staff raised concerns about grievance processes and the introduction of policies that may unfairly discriminate against different groups of staff.”

Leaders are said to be “out of touch” with frontline workers, and fail to understand challenges within the service.

The inspection on February 22 identified serious concerns about patients categorised as a three or four call - those requiring non urgent assistance.

Staff told the CQC that they did not always report incidents because they felt there was “no point”, as they did not always see that changes would be made as a result.

SECAMB was also found not to have adequate medicine department resources for a service of its size, and that gas cylinders had gone missing.

“The medicines team received approximately 100 incident reports a month relating to medicines management. There were insufficient resources to manage these,” the CQC said.

“Where serious incidents occurred that related to medicines, the team were not always informed in a timely way. A significant number of Oxygen and Entonox cylinders could not be accounted for. The trust was not fulfilling it’s duty to safely manage medical gases.”

The Argus: Secamb was assessed in FebruarySecamb was assessed in February

Training within the service is below standard, with just 63 per cent of staff having completed their mandatory training. The target is 95 per cent.

62 per cent of staff also disagreed that the organisation values its staff and provides them with effective support to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

There were redeeming factors in the report however, which found the service to be developing a new strategy, with a clear set of values.

Staff at Secamb treat people with compassion, kindness, dignity, and respect.

Secamb has announced an interim chief executive, Siobhan Melia, who has a “strong” clinical background, and will take up the position on July 12.

The service’s current interim chief executive, Fiona Moore, said: “It is clear from this report that we have a long way to go to ensure our staff feel properly supported to perform their roles.

The Argus: Fiona MooreFiona Moore

“The whole leadership team is committed to doing everything we can to make SECAMB a better place to work, so that our staff are best placed to respond to our patients.

“However, I am pleased that, despite the issues highlighted in the report concerning leadership at the trust, the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers did not go unnoticed.

“I look forward to working closely with Siobhan we first build and then embed the necessary improvements at SECAMB.”

Secamb serves more than five million people across Sussex, Surrey and Kent, and employs more than 4,500 staff across 110 sites.

Its Emergency Operation Centre also assessed in February, and were rated as “needing improvement”, while the 111 service was rated “good”.