WORKFORCE: Care Quality Commission inspectors visiting Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals were told of “significant tensions” and “racially motivated bullying and harassment” among staff at the trust, a report published this week reveals.

An inspection team including the regulator’s chair, David Prior, and chief inspector of hospitals Professor Sir Mike Richards visited the trust in December and January, in response to “serious allegations raised by whistleblowers”, a CQC statement said.

Employees told the team there were “significant tensions” amongst staff “in particular for staff from Black [and] Minority Ethnic (BME) groups who said they felt disadvantaged and, at times, subject to racially motivated bullying and harassment”.

The team’s report, based on a series of focus groups with staff and patients, adds: “We were told that there was a lack of staff in senior positions which people described as ‘the glass ceiling’. They felt despite the Trust recognising the need to support BME staff this had not resulted in any significant number of promotions at the higher senior level.”

Sir Mike said: “We carried out these visits because we’d received numerous reports of concerning information about the trust, and we wanted to hear first-hand from staff and patients at the trust about their experiences. The majority of patients were positive about their experiences, as were a number of staff – although this was by no means universal.”

The regulator has passed on the staff’s concerns to Brighton and Sussex chief executive Matthew Kershaw to investigate. Sir Mike added that the findings of the report would also inform the trust’s first full probe under the CQC’s new inspection regime, which is planned for May.

While the inspectors heard that the chief executive was “visible” and “approachable” in the trust it was also felt that senior nurses were not so visible and “a lot of their communication to staff was via email”.

Staff also told inspectors about the challenge of working in some environments that were “out-dated and no longer fit for purpose”. There was a lack of equipment storage space on some wards and poor connections between the various out-buildings at the Royal Sussex County Hospital which meant that patients had long transfers.

Chief executive Matthew Kershaw said the trust had actively encouraged staff and patients to talk to the CQC about their views. He added “We are well aware that we have some longstanding difficult and complex cultural issues to address and a great deal of work is already underway to do so. We provided the CQC with details of the work being done to address some of these tensions, including the actions we are taking to address the specific issues we have around staff from BME groups.”