Management at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust are said to have refused to allow staff to speak to the GMB – the union for NHS hospital staff, ambulance frontline professionals and support workers – to air their complaints and concerns.
GMB had been asked by members and concerned staff to attend St Mary’s Hospital to discuss increasing accounts of bullying and harassment by management and colleagues, organisational lack of support and respect of staff, along with high and increasing workloads and staffing shortages, amongst a raft of other issues.
3 GMB officials were blocked and prevented from talking to any members of staff and from giving out information and a staff survey by on site security. GMB say this was directly on the orders of the Trust management.
The Isle of Wight NHS Trust, which is still currently rated as ‘Inadequate’ by the CQC, is responsible for the integrated health needs of the Island and community, including both the emergency and patient transport ambulance services.
The CQC report is critical of the Trust in not being well led. Although the Trust saw a change of Chief Executive in May 2017 with the appointment of Maggie Oldham, GMB members are telling their union that they have seen little real change in the way bullying and harassment is dealt with. The strongest statement to date came from the Trust board when they said:
“There continues to be the perception by staff of an ongoing bullying culture within the trust.”
Adrian Baker, GMB Regional Organiser said:
“GMB members and trust staff have been praised by the CQC, with patients and their families on a regular basis telling them they are caring, kind, professional and always treating patients with dignity and respect.
“The truth is though that such glowing reports of staff are despite of the trust management team rather than because of it. The management and board rhetoric that they hear that things are improving within the trust is not manifesting itself on the front line. Staff are still feeling the pressure from being over worked and under resourced, whilst seeing and receiving less support and training on an on-going basis.
“Bullying is a real and growing issue, which the trust have washed their hands of. They feel that if reports of bullying to the trust are down then the problem must have gone.
“That’s simply not true, bullying is endemic and growing at the trust. Staff are so fed up with complaints either not being taken seriously or even believed, that when it is investigated, so many obstacles and issues are put in front of those raising complaints them. This ends up with staff feeling even more bullied, ostracised and alone for doing so. So they called the GMB to help and step in.
“What we didn’t expect though was the lengths the trust would go to in preventing GMB from doing that. When we tried to speak to our own members and concerned NHS staff over issues throughout the trust, we were met by security waiting to greet us and escort us off the hospital site. This gave us a real indication of the way they feel they can unilaterally behave towards anyone who dares to challenge them.
“Unfortunately for them they’ve picked the wrong union to try such heavy handed bullying tactics with.
“That’s why GMB were there in the first place and that’s also why we won’t be going away either. If the trust and staff side associations aren’t interested in helping NHS staff, GMB certainly are, with or without trust permissions and support, just as we have done so at NHS hospitals and ambulance trusts throughout the NHS.
“Let’s just hope that the trust, who have appointed a freedom to speak up guardian, apply a little freedom to speak of their own, and we can get on with supporting members and staff alike from now on.”
The Isle of Wight NHS Trust have come back at the accusations.
Julie Pennycook, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development at Isle of Wight NHS Trust said:
“We make facilities available to a range of recognised unions and professional bodies for local and regional representatives working together to participate in meetings and negotiations on terms and conditions. With our support they hold awareness raising activities around Trust buildings and we support their communication with their Members in a variety of ways. It is important to us that staff are appropriately represented and representatives are appropriately supported. However union and professional body activities cannot be allowed to interfere with patient care and we have to respond to concerns raised with us by staff.
“Whilst I am very happy to meet with representatives from the GMB they have not, as yet, formally asked to be recognised by the Trust. Nor were they willing last week to tell us how many of our staff they represent. Last week three GMB regional organisers entered St. Mary’s Hospital to hand out leaflets and a survey. Staff complained to us about the assertive approach taken by the GMB representatives and told us they were concerned that they were attempting to have conversations with staff whilst they were caring for patients. At the request of our staff the Trust’s security staff attempted to discuss the issue with the representatives but when the representatives would not amend their behaviour Hampshire Police were asked to intervene.
“We do not want a confrontational relationship with the GMB and we would encourage them to develop a good working relationship with the other unions and professional bodies. We are doing everything we can to change the culture, eliminate bullying and encourage an atmosphere in which staff feel able to speak up.”