• Doctors’ union calls on health and social care secretary to intervene at Dudley Group FT
  • Cites concerns over handling of whistleblowing claims
  • Trust directors and some other medical consultants insist the concerns do not represent a “majority”

Concerns from “dozens” of consultants over their trust’s handling of bullying allegations have been escalated to the health and social care secretary by a medical union.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association - a medical union - has written to the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock after, it says, it was contacted by “dozens” of consultants at the Dudley Group Foundation Trust who say bullying and harrasment issues had not been addressed.

The union’s action follows the publication of an independent review of allegations made by 42 consultants in a letter to NHS Improvement and the trust’s chair in July last year. The review, published in May, did not substantiate any claims of “systemic” bullying among the leadership.

According to Rob Quick, national officer for the HSCA, since the review was published the union has been contacted by “dozens” of clinicians raising concerns about ongoing problems and fears the review was a “whitewash”.

Following a meeting with MPs and a number of consultants, the union has sent a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock today asking for national intervention. 

The union’s concerns also come after the Care Quality Commission last week downgraded the trust’s rating for safety from “requires improvement” to “inadequate”. 

In response to HSJ’s queries, trust deputy medical director Paul Hudson said he believed the recent complaints did not represent the majority of its consultants.

He added: “A few of us were really surprised with this. Whilst complainants were anonymised, we’ve done such an amount of incredible hard work over the last few months, on the shop floor it feels like a very different organisation to where we were.”

A number of other consultants at the trust, put in touch with HSJ by the trust’s press office, also said they did not share the union’s concerns. 

The British Medical Association, which also has union members at the trust, told HSJ it would not comment on the issues raised by the HCSA’s letter as there were “ongoing collaborative efforts to try to resolve the issues and a mediation in process”.

HCSA’s letter, sent today by president Claudia Paoloni, said several issues were ongoing concerns raised by consultants at the trust. These included:

  • Feeling “defeated and betrayed” by the the earlier report - produced by the legal firm Capsticks - and claiming it was a “whitewash”;
  • The review failing to restore some consultants’ confidence in the leadership and damaging morale;
  • Finding it “almost impossible” to engage with the trust’s mediation process since the review, as leaders feel “exonerated by it”;
  • Worsening staff survey results which showed deterioration in key questions over bullying and harassment in 2018 compared to 2017.

The letter also sets out concerns about the process of the Capsticks review, including allegations the firm “was not sufficiently independent”, and that it omitted some key evidence from consultants.

“These issues taken collectively have fatally undermined the trust of doctors in this process and in our opinion represent an attempt to ’whitewash’ the facts,” the letter added. 

Trust chief executive Diane Wake said: “We fully accepted the conclusions and recommendations [in the Capsticks report] and continue to work on our improvement plan in place that staff helped to develop…

“Senior leadership have had ongoing dialogue with the consultant body and the majority of people we talk to are just as committed as the leaders to move the Trust forward to support an open transparent culture and improve patient care.

“We continue to promote a safe culture with open two-way communication to ensure all staff feel valued and supported in providing quality care for our patients.”

NHS Improvement said it believed Capsticks had conducted a “robust independent review” and that it had been involved in all stages of the investigation.

HSJ approached Capsticks for comment. 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Nobody should have to face bullying or harassment in the workplace and this type of behaviour has no place in our NHS.

“We take these kinds of reports very seriously and, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we’re committed to making the NHS a better place to work, by ending discrimination, bullying and harassment and making it even easier for staff to raise concerns