There must be no hiding place for bullies in the ambulance service

Unhappy, bullied and harassed ambulance employees are in no one’s interest

There should soon be no hiding place for anyone who bullies their staff, or colleagues, at the South Western Ambulance Service (SWAS), following the publication today (Thursday) of an independent report, says UNISON.

The report, based on a staff survey and interviews conducted by Professor Duncan Lewis, was jointly commissioned by UNISON and the ambulance trust.

It follows a succession of serious complaints and grievances about the behaviour of managers and other employees at the ambulance service, says UNISON.

Concerned that directors at the trust appeared to be ignoring or dismissing incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation raised by staff, UNISON persuaded the trust directors to commission the report from the Plymouth University Business School.

The report found no evidence of a culture of bullying across the service, but said there were definite problem hotspots.

A third of the staff had witnessed bullying, mostly of their colleagues, but of managers in some cases too. As many as two-thirds reported some degree of friction or anger between colleagues, and up to three-quarters that relationships at work were strained.

Some complained of feeling intimidated in the workplace by behaviour of a sexual nature, citing intimate conversations, the viewing of pornography, and the play-acting of sexual acts.

Commenting on the report, UNISON SWAS branch secretary Chris Nelson said:

“For too long the culture within areas of the ambulance service has been all wrong. The inaction of some managers meant that bullying and other bad behaviour was effectively given the green light.

“Whenever staff complained, they felt that the perpetrators were let off the hook, and sent away with a slap on the wrist, or a training course at best.

“Thanks must go the many hundreds of paramedics, technicians call handlers and other ambulance staff who were brave enough to contribute to the report. Their voices of experience have brought credibility to claims that were previously ignored or dismissed by senior managers at the ambulance service.

“The real work challenge will now be to bring our service back together. It won’t be easy, but this report will help enormously. Employers have a moral, legal and financial duty to keep their workplaces bully free, and there must be no more brushing of the problem under the carpet.”

UNISON national ambulance officer Alan Lofthouse said: “A lack of resources is mostly to blame for the pressures being felt throughout the ambulance service. Increases in the number of 999 calls and huge gaps in staffing mean there simply aren’t enough ambulance workers.

“As managers and staff struggle to cope, things can quickly spiral out of control. Managers need more time and better training to tackle the bullies and create a better working environment for staff.

“Unhappy, bullied and harassed ambulance employees are in no one’s interest. Things must improve or they will keep on leaving, making a bad situation worse. It’s time the government took its responsibility to the NHS seriously and funded it properly.”

UNISON has called on the South Western Ambulance Service to:

  • work with UNISON to create a staff charter, setting out what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour
  • increase the amount of training for supervisors and managers to help create a healthier culture
  • determine, where appropriate what action should be used to create an accountable and transparent work environment for staff and managers.

Notes to editors:
UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.
The report is based on a four-month study, and is based on a survey of staff and 150 hours of interviews.
Duncan Lewis is an international expert in bullying, and previously conducted a similar exercise for the South East Coast Ambulance Service.
A link to the report can be found here.