‘Toxic Culture’ in Birmingham Hospitals Investigated

Ombudsman has commented on “very serious” patient safety issues

University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) has been under scrutiny for months after initial allegations were made that staff members were threatened for raising safety concerns.

Over the last 10 years, the trust has reported 26 of its doctors to the General Medical Council, allegedly as a form of intimidation through disciplinary process. This has led to some doctors feeling that they have no option but to work in conditions that are unsafe for patients.

NHS England is now undertaking an inquiry into the culture, leadership and patient safety problems reported at UHB. But the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has questioned the basis of their investigation.

In a letter to UHB and NHS England, ombudsman Rob Behrens said that the PHSO’s “exclusion from the review process” had left him feeling concerned about the “completeness and transparency” of the inquiry.

The ombudsman also raised concerns around how his findings of “very serious” patient safety issues would be addressed by UHB. He stated in his letter that he had faced “defensiveness” from leaders within the trust, and that his previous recommendations had been ignored.

Patient safety and workplace culture are “intimately connected”

The Chief executive of the Birmingham and Solihull Integrated Care Board (ICB) told local councillors recently that the inquiry had “not identified any red flags in terms of safety”. But the ICB has admitted that there are “substantial issues around culture, leadership and governance” at the trust.

In response to these statements, the ombudsman argued that “you can’t split patient safety from culture and leadership in organisations”. He added: “It’s up to the leaders of the trust to create a climate which gives primacy to patient safety.”

NHS England has said that it welcomes the offer of support from the ombudsman’s office and that it will continue to “use their expertise where it can offer most value as part of the planned cultural review”.

What is the ombudsman’s role in healthcare?

Ombudsman Rob Behrens is the Chair of the PHSO board, which was set up as an impartial organisation to drive improvements within public services including the NHS.

Part of the ombudsman’s role is to consider complaints made against the NHS that have not been properly handled. On average, the ombudsman’s office receives around 30,000 complaints a year and can make recommendations to the hospitals involved.

Making a complaint to the ombudsman is free, but it should be used as a last resort. If you’ve suffered sub-standard medical care, you should first follow the complaints procedure of the NHS trust, dentist or GP surgery responsible for your treatment.

If you’re unsatisfied with the response to your complaint, you may then consider contacting the ombudsman. Our medical negligence solicitors can help you to navigate this process, so you don’t need to worry about going through it alone.

Get in touch with our claims team to find out more about the support we can offer.


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