Ambulance service staff morale still ‘poor’

STAFF morale at an ambulance service is still “poor” two years after it was placed in special measures over a high level of bullying and harassment reports, the trust’s boss has said.

East of England Ambulance Service Trust CEO Tom Abell told Essex County Council earlier today (January 6) the trust had closed half its 170 employee relations grievances and expects the remainder to be closed within three months.

Appearing before the Health Overview Policy and Scrutiny Committee, Mr Abell said he hoped the trust would be out of special measures next year.

The trust was put into special measures in September 2020 after a Care Quality Commission inspection found senior leaders failed to respond appropriately to instances of bullying and harassment.

Mr Abell said at the meeting: “As you will all be very much aware, this organisation has been one which has been troubled for some time, both in terms of its response times, in terms of meeting the needs of our communities, but also in terms of a number of cultural issues that have been exposed through CQC reports and other regulatory interventions the trust has had.”

Mr Abell, who was appointed to the top job in August 2021, also said around 80 per cent of the CQC’s recommendations have now been completed and that the trust is working on a set of exit criteria.

According to a report to the council, the trust has seen a 900 per cent increase in the number of contacts to the Freedom to Speak Up service, a national initiative aimed at helping healthcare employees to report issues, compared to last year.

It has also invested over £170,000 in staff health and wellbeing over the winter, including increasing support for mental health, the report continues.

According to reporting by the BBC, the trust was forced to sign a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in April 2021 because of “high levels” of sexual harassment.

The report says the trust has agreed on an action plan with the EHRC and is awaiting feedback on a first monitoring point submission submitted in October 2021.

The trust has also seen issues with recruitment because of its record of “inappropriate behaviour”.

According to an Ofsted monitoring report published in July 2021, such behaviour was experienced by a “significant minority” of apprentices at the trust.

The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) then withdrew its funding for level 3 and 4 apprenticeships, according to reports by the BBC.

Mr Abell said recruitment at the trust is “complicated” by its issues with Ofsted, but that it was looking at bringing back the cadet programme it used to operate in an attempt to create new pathways for young people into the ambulance service.

In addition to workplace culture, Mr Abell also told councillors C1 response times, those for the most life-threatening emergencies, had improved over the Christmas, new year and early January period.

According to Mr Abell, the most critically ill patients were now regularly getting responses in less than ten minutes, achieved partly by reallocating resources and responders.

However, Mr Abell also said the root cause of slow handover times, getting patients into hospital and ambulance crews back on the road, has not yet been identified, although hospital capacities are likely to be related.

Basildon Borough Council awarded Freedom of Entry to the Borough to the East of England Ambulance Service, in recognition of their heroic efforts in the borough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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