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Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk Hospital NHS trust sees increase in concerns over working culture

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The number of concerns raised about the working culture at a hospital trust has increased with issues including 'staff are broken' and 'people just want to cry'.

A report to West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's board, which met this morning, outlined concerns raised to the 'Freedom to Speak Up' Guardians, with staff shortages among one of the main problems.

The quarterly report from Amanda Bennett, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, said the amount of concerns raised with the guardians has 'consistently increased' over the past five quarters, rising to 43 in the first quarter of 2022/23.

Concerns have been raised about staffing levels at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: istock
Concerns have been raised about staffing levels at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: istock

Amanda, who is supported by a network of 47 'champions', said: "Themes seen in previous quarters continue to dominate as concerns, the most significant being staffing concerns.

"Patient transport, poor relationships with managers and fear and actual harm from patients (lacking capacity) are also continuing themes.

"Although no staff have reported suffering detriment as a result of speaking up with a concern in this quarter, general feedback from when some colleagues have raised concerns (via the Guardian and in other ways) indicate that improvements are required to build and maintain trust in the speaking up process."

The Trust runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
The Trust runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

Twelve concerns related to staffing at the Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, and quotes from staff members and champions included 'when I visit the nurses I just see broken faces...staff are broken', 'people don't want to talk anymore, they just want to cry' and 'if I could say something to the board it would be 'stop moving staff''.

A newly recruited nurse said: "We work long, extremely busy shifts but it’s just considered normal…it is not right. It’s an endless cycle and we feel completely discouraged.”

The report noted that some staff have a 'poor experience' when speaking up.

In two separate cases, where people spoke up in confidence, it was reported that the managers were then asking and wishing to find out who had spoken up 'making the individuals very uncomfortable'.

Another case reported that the individual was 'told off' by their manager for 'going about their heads' and another where staff felt discouraged from raising any points or suggestions as these were taken a personal offence from the senior staff.

In a further case, the person speaking up was criticised for doing so.

Today, Suffolk News revealed the scale of the pressures facing staff at the Trust, with stress, anxiety and depression resulting in thousands of sick days taken.

Last week, the Trust declared a critical internal incident due to 'immense pressure' on its services.

Learning points for the Trust to improve on included a need for increased feedback and wider communication to staff to show how suggestions are being responded to and how staffing levels are being improved.

It highlighted how anxiety and stress is caused by reallocation of staff for those moved and those left behind to cope.

Addressing what was going well, the report said promotion and training of speaking up continues to be given across the Trust and there was more visibility due to the increased number of champions and visits to departments by guardians.

The board said it would agree how best to ensure staff are aware of their appreciation of the concerns raised and how they are responding.

Jeremy Over
Jeremy Over

After the meeting, Jeremy Over, director of workforce and communications, said they understood the pressures staff were facing and took seriously the impact.

"I thank all our staff sincerely for their dedication to our patients, and for the care they provide each day in very challenging circumstances," he said.

"The Trust board is committed to supporting staff with health and wellbeing initiatives that really try to make a difference to them."

They are also working with Amanda Bennett to listen to and address staff concerns.

Mr Over added: "We have more to do, and the pressures being felt are not easily fixed, but we are considering the issues in depth to ensure we find meaningful ways to make changes that have an impact on the ground.

"We will continue to discuss this with colleagues through our staff briefings and across our teams.

"It is vitally important our staff feel confident to speak up about any aspect of work that is concerning them, and Amanda and her team of champions are doing great work in support of this goal."