‘A culture of fear, bullying and harassment’ – Sheffield mental health trust accused of failing to protect staff

A culture of bullying, harassment and fear has developed at the Sheffield NHS trust responsible for the city’s mental health services, a whistleblower has claimed.

A current staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said a ‘culture of fear’ dominates in parts of the Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust, with one senior leader singled out for particular criticism.

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.

They said they had seen senior staff in tears being sent home from work, and that many of those working there were either too afraid to speak out or had simply left.

READ MORE: Report into leadership and culture at Sheffield’s NHS commissioning body leaked amid allegations of bullying, favouritism and harassment

And they added that the issue had been raised with senior management, but that so far nothing significant had been done to tackle the problem.

The whistleblower said: “There have been a number of staff that have been quite ill as a result which is quite ironic given that it is a mental health trust.

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.

“I have worked in the NHS for 10 to 15 years and I have never worked anywhere like this before in my life - and I have worked in some pretty bad places.

READ MORE: Big changes needed at Sheffield health body says MP after report reveals executive team beset by infighting

“People said that staff were going to leave and that is exactly what has happened. I can’t cope with it anymore.

“When it happens nothing is said about it - it is like it is normal.”

“HR are aware and came in to do some work on it but as far as I can see it was just swept under the carpet. They just do nothing.”

READ MORE: Senior Sheffield health manager suspended for whole year on full pay of £110,000

The whistleblower said that while they feel the organisation had a cultural problem, the main allegations focus on the behaviour of one senior leader.

The Star has seen a list of more than half a dozen people from the senior leadership team who have left the department which the senior leader works in within the last 12 months.

"Anyone who has had a close working relationship with them in terms of direct reports has left in the last 12 months,” said the whistleblower.

“The volume of work was ridiculous and relentless. Some people tried to address it and try to put in place a process to cope with the stress and that is where this whole issue arises from.

“What I struggle to believe is given that why are the other senior managers and leadership asking more questions.

“If something were done about this person it might change the culture that has developed.”

The whistleblower claimed the senior leader routinely made ‘impossible demands’ and then ‘came down’ on people when they were not done.

They are also alleged to have sent staff emails in the early hours of the morning and on one occasion demanded that a staff member was fired.

They added they weren’t aware that any staff had raised a formal grievance process yet, but said most people were scared to speak out for fear that they will lose their jobs or struggle to find employment elsewhere in the NHS.

The whistleblower also said they had raised the issue with a ‘freedom to speak up’ officer but that nothing had come of it

“All NHS organisations have bullying and harassment and freedom to speak up policies plastered all over the offices,” they said.

“But when push comes to shove very few of them actually adhere to their values. The NHS it a total hypocrite.”

The Sheffield Health and Social Care trust manages mental health services in the city as well as care services and has an annual budget of £125m.

The claims come just weeks after another NHS organisation in the city - its clinical commissioning group (CCG) - was also embroiled in a bullying row.

An independent NHS England review found the body had serious shortcomings, with senior leaders failing to live up to the organisation’s values and poor safeguards in place to protect staff from mistreatment.

Kevan Taylor, chief executive of Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have been made aware of issues in one of our directorates and we are taking the necessary steps to address these problems with appropriate action.

“We take any instance of whistleblowing very seriously and I would like to encourage any member of staff who has concerns to formally raise them and reassure them it will be listened to and acted on. We have very clear expectations of our leaders and what we consider to be appropriate behaviour.

“Our staff do an incredible job under tough circumstances. They are our most important asset and we will do everything we can to support their health and wellbeing. We’re working together with staff to develop a culture where everyone feels respected, engaged, heard and valued. We want to create an environment where everyone feels fully supported to deliver high quality, compassionate services.”