Almost half of staff at a scandal-hit ambulance trust do not think their patients are put first, with almost one quarter too frightened to raise safety concerns with managers, research shows.
The NHS staff survey shows that South East Coast Ambulance trust is the worst in the country across a host of rankings.
The trust has been at the centre of a string of scandals, with at least two call handlers saying they were driven to attempt suicide as a result of an “endemic culture of bullying”.
Several claimed they were left under such pressure they could not concentrate on emergency calls, impairing their responses to the public.
Almost 1,300 staff from the trust - which is on special measures - responded to an NHS survey, which tracks the views of employees across the whole of the health service.
In total, 43 per cent said they did not think care of patients was their organisation’s top priority - the worst finding in the country, against an average of 25 per cent among ambulance trusts.
Just 49 per cent said the trust acted on concerns raised by patients, with 36 per cent having witnessed errors or near misses that could have harmed patients in the last month.
When staff were involved in such incidents, less than one quarter expected to be treated fairly.
One in three staff said they had been bullied by managers.
And 23 per cent of staff said they would not feel “secure” raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice, the survey found. Across the whole of the NHS, the figure was nine per cent.
The trust’s findings are the worst of any ambulance trust. On dozens of measures, it also fared worse than all hospitals.
The Telegraph has exposed a series of scandals at the trust, after whistleblowers raised concerns that patients were being put at risk by covert policies to delay ambulance responses, and by a culture of bullying.
Last month the acting chief executive of the trust - now on leave - emailed all staff, telling them he was “saddened” that staff had gone to the press with their concerns.
Geraint Davies told staff that there were a “range of options” for staff who wanted to raise concerns including the appointment of a whistleblowing champion at board level.
The executive previously in charge of whistleblowing had accused Mr Davies and the trust’s previous chief executive of bullying, in a complaint which was upheld by an independent investigation, which did not comment on the specifics of the allegations.
Francesca Okosi, director of workforce transformation, accused Paul Sutton, head of the trust, of sleeping with young female staff and running a “boys’ club” which protected staff who fiddled figures, and “trashed” the reputations of whistleblowers.
The trust has now begun a project to tackle bullying and harassment, and said that previous allegations of bullying had been fully investigated.
A new chief executive, Daren Mochie, from the Scottish Ambulance Service is due to take up post at the trust next month. In recent weeks, ambulances have been stripped of drugs after unauthorised and foreign medications, without English labels, were found to be in use. The trust said no patient safety incidents had been recorded.
A trust spokesman said: “We recognise that the results are extremely disappointing but they reflect, to a great extent, the challenges that the Trust has faced during the last year and the impact that these have had on staff. Much has already been done to address some of the issues the survey highlights but we still have a long way to go. Moving forwards, we remain committed to improving the working environment for our staff, as well as the service we provide to our patients.
“We already have plans in place to make improvements across many areas identified in the survey e.g. tackling bullying and harassment for example, but will also use these latest results to establish where further actions need to be taken. A big part of this will be engaging with staff across the Trust on our plans and working with them to identify solutions.”
Mr Sutton said last month that he stood by his record as chief executive of the trust, adding: "I refute the wholly unsubstantiated allegations concerning my personal conduct.”
The NHS survey, answered by 423,000 health service workers, showed that overall almost half of hospital staff did not think there were enough staff to do their job properly.