Racial discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment are rife at an ambulance trust, the national care watchdog has reported after being tipped-off by whistleblowers.

East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), which serves more than six million people across Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, was rated ‘requires improvement’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last year.

The watchdog returned to the trust in June after seven whistleblowers raised the alarm over sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour and harassment at the service.

Between April 2019 and March 2020, staff were referred to the police over allegations of sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour – including allegations of staff abusing patients – on 13 occasions.

Service leadership was criticised for failing to take appropriate action by CQC inspectors who added there was evidence of “acceptance of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviours”.

In April 2020 CQC received a report, externally commissioned by the trust, which noted a “collusive approach” of managers and staff who knew of sexual harassment.

When the issue was raised, management became “combative and defensive” CQC reported.

The CQC report stated members of the executive leadership team expressed the view sexual harassment was “endemic to the ambulance service nationally” and thus they were not responsible for it.

A staff survey conducted by CQC found staff felt discriminated against in grounds of race, sexuality, age, sex and disability and many of the trust’s BAME staff felt racially discriminated against.

Staff also told CQC inspectors “nepotism, cliques and favouritism” were commonplace and that people were being promoted “because of who they knew, rather than being the right person for the role”.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Nicola Scrivings, EEAST chair. Photo: EEAST

Nicola Scrivings, chair of EEAST, said: “This report calls out where we need to improve and we will now do everything possible, as fast as possible, to make the improvements required.

“We are working closely with the CQC, NHS colleagues and other partners to take action right now to address these concerns and put this right for the long-term.

”The trust aims to provide outstanding quality of care and performance for patients and be an exceptional place to work, volunteer and learn. In a message to staff today, the executive team has again reinforced its commitment to listen to and support anyone who raises concerns.”

CQC has recommended the trust be placed in special measures.