An ambulance trust saw a sharp rise in complaints – and has dismissed seven staff – after overhauling its complaints process, and encouraging people to speak up about sexual behaviour.
South Central Ambulance Service Trust saw a surge in the number of complaints about all types of staff behaviour last winter, from a rate of fewer than three each month, up to 14 in November, then at least eight for the following four months.
The trust revealed the figures in a new board report, and said the rush of new complaints was triggered by a new “allegation management policy” and approach introduced in November. It also coincided with “expanding the safeguarding team, ensuring accurate reporting methods… a drive to encourage staff to speak up about unacceptable behaviour… and the introduction of a sexual safety campaign and charter”.
A total of 60 complaints were reported to the trust’s safeguarding services during 2022-23, of which only 10 were known about before November.
Fifty-one per cent of the cases had a “sexual theme”, the board paper said, although only 30 per cent were classed as related to “sexual behaviour”, which includes grooming and sexual offences.
These 17 cases with a clear theme of sexual behaviour were referred to the trust’s new “allegation management” process. This has resulted in seven staff being dismissed, and one resigning (with the Disclosure and Barring Service also informed of the allegation).
Six others are still under investigation, with some staff suspended, while three were found to be unsubstantiated.
HSJ has highlighted the major problem in ambulance services with high levels of sexual harassment and misconduct which have come to light in recent years, including in 2021 revealing a “macho” culture in which there was widespread abuse of female staff.
Of the 17 SCAS cases, police were or are involved in 16 out of the 17, only one of which involved a patient. The other cases involved behaviours towards other staff, or behaviour outside of work.
SCAS’s safeguarding procedures were criticised by the Care Quality Commission after 750 referrals were delayed in the middle of 2021. The trust was later told that concerns, including sexual harassment, were being “brushed under the carpet”, and its rating dropped from “good” to “inadequate”.
A trust spokesman said: “The rise in numbers identified in this report coincides with a focus on improving and expanding the safeguarding team, ensuring accurate reporting methods across the organisation and a drive to encourage staff to speak up about unacceptable behaviour through the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian and the introduction of a sexual safety campaign and charter.
“While our ultimate aim is to eradicate any such incidents, where they do occur we must make sure people have the confidence to come forward and our drive to ensure the reporting of inappropriate behaviour means cases will rise before they come down – but this is important so that action can be taken where it is needed.”