• CCG employee wrote to former chief nurse in November 2017
  • Letter claimed staff were spoken to “using shouting [and] sentences littered with swearing”
  • Letter also alleges CCG’s chief nurse “has been known for her aggressive and unsupportive style”

NHS England was warned about “constant unrelenting bullying” by senior managers at Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group more than a year ago, HSJ has learned.

A letter written by a CCG employee was sent to former chief nurse Jane Cummings in November 2017 and shared with NHS England, the CCG and a local MP.

The letter, seen by HSJ, claimed there was a “culture of bullying and lack of care from the director team level, specifically the quality directorate and including HR”.

HSJ revealed last week that Sheffield CCG was facing serious questions over its leadership and culture, amid bullying allegations, whistleblowing complaints and a highly critical independent investigation, which the CCG published online after HSJ’s report.

The letter added: “There has been constant, unrelenting bullying of staff at all levels, from senior managers and across director level and down. Staff are scared and are being worked into the ground.”

It alleged staff are spoken to “using shouting, sentences littered with swearing and unprofessional behaviour” including some managers using “language full of sexual innuendoes on almost a daily basis”.

“I have witnessed staff in tears and scared to go on annual leave,” the letter said.

One of the senior members of staff singled out in the letter was CCG chief nurse Mandy Philbin, who was accused in the letter as having been “known for her aggressive and unsupportive style”. The letter said staff were “frequently on edge” and “scared about attending any meetings with Mandy Philbin”.

The letter also claimed a member of staff was promoted without proper procedures or openness.

The letter added: “The reason I am raising this now is that it has gone on long enough and action and investigation now needs to occur to protect employees.”

It continued: “In my long service in the NHS I have never witnessed what we are seeing now as staff.”

An independent review commissioned by NHS England, after concerns raised by local MPs last year, appeared to back up the concerns raised by the author of the letter and in particular found “longstanding issues within the nursing directorate, exacerbated by issues related to Continuing Health Care processes”.

“As these were not part of the formal terms of reference for this assessment, they have been reported separately to the director of nursing in NHSE (Yorkshire and the Humber) to inform ongoing work between the CCG and the council,” the report said.

The anonymous letter was also sent to Labour MP for Sheffield South East Clive Betts. Mr Betts told HSJ the CCG had “fundamentally got to change”.

“It has to change so it works internally and so people with real ability are allowed to do their job and externally it has to rebuild confidence,” Mr Betts said.

“You need an approach from the very top to bring people together. They are either going to put their head in the sand or come up with a clear plan of action and change how they operate.”

A source from within the CCG, who spoke to HSJ on condition of anonymity, said: “It is tragic to see a CCG previously high performing to go to such a level where it is just functioning, and it is not a happy place to be.

“It has to start at the top and the leadership team, they have to be the focus moving forward.”

The source stressed they were speaking up on behalf of “the people left behind and what they are going through”.

Maddy Ruff, accountable officer at Sheffield CCG, told HSJ: “The anonymous letter sent to NHS England was thoroughly investigated by the CCG. We took action and staff now have more wellbeing support together with training that includes how to raise concerns around bullying.”

“We encourage staff to speak up and we take all concerns raised by staff very seriously,” Ms Ruff said.

She added: “As with all NHS organisations, there are pockets of bullying in the CCG but we are working hard to reduce this behaviour and support staff. In the last 18 months, we’ve introduced mandatory tackling bullying and harassment training and trained 19 members of staff to be mental health first aiders to support staff with their mental health.”

Responding to the allegation about a member of staff promoted without proper procedures, Ms Ruff said: “For all staff re-grading we follow proper processes. In this particular case, in line with national NHS Agenda for Change contract, a job evaluation was carried out between a trained senior manager and a trade union rep.”

An NHS England North East and Yorkshire spokesman said: “Allegations made in an anonymous letter were investigated when it was received in 2017. An unrelated independent report was subsequently commissioned which raises concerns about aspects of the CCG’s governance, and the CCG has been told to publish it at its public governing body meeting on 7 March and then agree clear and transparent action to tackle the issues identified.”