Further investigation into bullying and harassment claims at South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust could lead to disciplinary action, its new chief executive has said.

Daren Mochrie, who joined the trust in April, has said the recommendations in a damning report published on Friday will be taken forward and action has already been taken to address some issues.

Daren Mochrie

The trust is ‘absolutely committed to learning lessons from the report’

He said the trust would be “looking at some of the evidence in more detail” and deciding whether to take further action. “Where there are examples of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour we will investigate,” he added. The report was critical of senior managers but he would not comment on whether fit and proper person regulations might be relevant as it does not give timescales for the incidents.

The report, by Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University, mainly relied on staff testimony but uncovered a toxic culture where bullying and harassment were commonplace in some areas. There were also allegations that female staff and students were sexually harassed.

Mr Mochrie said: “The chair and myself are absolutely committed to learning lessons from the report and making sure we have a culture across the trust which does not tolerate bullying and harassment and the behaviours outlined.

“What we want to do is work with the staff to allow them to find some of the solutions going forward. Our staff are trying to do their very best for patients. My job is to do all I can to support the staff and managers to do that.”

The trust is already redesigning leadership support and development to encourage appropriate behaviours. One aspect of this may be making operational team leaders supernumerary for part of the week, giving them more time for management duties. The trust is also developing engagement champions; a “speak with confidence” facilitator; and Mr Mochrie has adopted a more visible leadership style, spending time with ambulance crews across the South East.

He said there were some potential quick wins, especially around engaging better with staff, but experience from other trusts suggested some of the culture changes could take several years.

The trust has appointed a permanent director of operations in the last few days but has had to advertise again for other key roles. Many board level executives have been interims over the last year.

Payouts for former chief and directors revealed

South East Coast Ambulance Service’s annual report has revealed that three executives who left the trust in 2016-17 were paid large sums in lieu of notice and redundancy.

Paul Sutton, the former chief executive, received £100,000 despite being in post for just two months of the financial year.

Geraint Lewis – who took over as acting chief executive – was paid £210,000.

The trust said the high figures were due to them being given payment in lieu of notice. The men were paid £160,000 and £110,000 respectively in the previous financial year, when Mr Davies was director of strategy and business development.

Kath Start, listed as nursing director in the annual report but who was off sick for the financial year, was paid £300,000. A trust spokesman said this included redundancy payments. Her pay in 2015-16 was £105,000.

The trust has also had to revalue its assets, wiping a third off the value and leaving it with a £36m deficit; however, only £7m of this was an operating deficit. It said this followed requests from NHS Improvement that all trusts revalue their assets and a change in the method used to a more appropriate approach.

Bullying, harassment and 'militaristic leadership' exposed at trust