A shock report in the running of Derian House Children’s Hospice has revealed staff felt bullied and the working environment was “extremely unhealthy and broken.”
Yet, despite damning claims from the workforce, an investigation by health watchdogs found problems behind the scenes were kept well-hidden from the children and young people cared for at the home in Chorley.
“The issues staff were experiencing were not adversely affecting the care and support offered to children and young people using the service,” concludes the report by the Care Quality Commission published this week.
Investigators interviewed 57 staff, past and present, during an “unprecedented” inspection of Derian House, prompted by information from a whistle blower.
What they uncovered was a disturbing culture where many staff felt uncomfortable with how they were treated.
“The information painted a picture of a service where staff felt vulnerable, bullied and unable to express their views freely without being reprimanded for doing so,” says the CQC report.
We heard many testimonies about how staff were bullied, belittled and how they felt unable to raise these concerns within a safe environment.
“The vast majority of staff we spoke with did so at length and went into detail. Some were visibly upset and fearful of speaking to us.
“All the staff we spoke to were aware of cultural issues at the hospice.
“Much of the information we were told by staff related to a specific individual, although some other senior members of staff were mentioned.”
Derian House says its trustees and management team are now working on an action plan “to address any areas of concern identified by the CQC.”
Former chief executive Georgina Cox left the charity in December to concentrate on her estate agency business Moving Works.
She told the Post: “I knew there were a few grumbles from former employees. But I am certainly not aware of any claims of bullying. I wasn’t made aware of any claims like that.”
Julie Atherton, acting chief executive officer and clinical director, said: “We constantly strive for the highest possible standards of care in looking after the needs of the children and young people we care for, and the families we support.
“Whilst our rating was slightly lower than at our previous inspection in 2016, we found much to recommend the hospice in the CQC’s comments about the care and services we provide, with those services constantly being developed and expanded in line with local demand and individual families’ needs.
“As an organisation, we are of course focussing attention on the CQC’s comments to take up their recommendations.
“In the meantime, Derian House will continue to provide the high level of specialist hospice care and support for which it is renowned to children, young people and families throughout the North West.”
The CQC downgraded Derian House from an overall rating of “good” to one of “requires improvement” following the unannounced six-day inspection in October.
Of five categories examined, two - caring and responsive - were classified as good, while safe, effective and well-led were all deemed to be in need of improvement.
Offices said they originally intended to do a focused inspection looking at just fire safety and cultural issues raised by the whistle blower. But they upgraded it to a full inspection as a result of what staff were telling them.
“A large percentage of staff we spoke with and had contact with told us of a working environment which we judged to be extremely unhealthy and broken,” says the report.
“We heard many testimonies about how staff were bullied, belittled and how they felt unable to raise these concerns within a safe environment.”
The inspectors said many staff wanted their interviews to remain confidential because they feared they would be sacked for speaking to the CQC team.
Former chief executive ‘unaware of bullying claims
The woman in charge of Derian House at the time of the damning CQC inspection revealed she had never heard claims of staff bullying.
Georgina Cox, left, who left the charity in December to concentrate on her estate agency business Moving Works, told the Post: “It’s very difficult because I haven’t read the report yet.
“But, given that I am no longer in the role, it would be very difficult for me to make any comment on it really.
“My role was to take the organisation through a period of change. And I knew there were a few grumbles from former employees. But when you are going through a period of restructuring that is often the case.
“But I am certainly not aware of any claims of bullying. I wasn’t made aware of any claims like that.
“It was always my intention to leave and I wouldn’t want it to be inferred that this was the reason.
“Derian House is an extremely worthwhile charity and does a tremendous amount of good.”
Children remained in a “bubble of happiness” at Derian House despite the problems behind the scenes, according to the inspectors.
The issues which left the hospice “extremely unhealthy and broken” for staff members never filtered through to those being cared for.
And not one parent raised any concerns to the CQC team during the six-day inspection.
“None of the staff we spoke with told us that the care of the children and young people at Derian House had ever been compromised,” said the report.
“This message was made very clear to us. Staff told us that if there was the slightest inclination that the quality of the care had been affected then this would have been reported to the relevant authorities immediately.
“Given the fact that no parent or relative raised the cilture or atmosohere as an issue, we felt confident that this was a true reflection of the service received by children young people and their families.” In interviews carried out with parents, the inspectors said “without exception” the message was a positive one.
One told them: “We simply could not have survived without them (staff) and feel so lucky to be part of the Derian family.” Another said: “Derian staff are just wonderful. We can’t imagine what it would have been like to not have their amazing support. Staff are so caring and approachable amd they make us feel so welcome. It’s a home from home.”
The CQC report adds: “We received many comments such as these, all praising the service, the hospice environment, but especially the dedication, commitment, empathy and professionalism of the staff who cared for their children.
“We were told of a staff team that was caring, empathetic and professional.
“More than this, we were told countless stories of how the service was a sanctuary for families and one they could not have coped with in times of extreme difficulty.”
Jack Johnstone’s father
The father of a 10-year-old boy who lost his fight for life just over a year ago has said he was “absolutey shocked” to hear the findings of the investigation into Derian House.
Kevin Johnstone, whose son Jack passed away in December 2016 following a long battle against cystic fibrosis, said: “The staff there are the most considerate, respectful and dignified people I have ever met in my life.
“They are out of this world and the fact that the CQC has delivered such a report has absolutely shocked me.
“Jack went into Derian House after he had passed away and he stayed in one of the bedrooms there. It was the most diginified experience I have ever had.
“The way he was treated as a little boy who had just died was wonderful. The staff were absolutely marvellous.
“I manage a nursing home and to see the level of care that goes on in Derian House is incredible.
“We went back to Derian House when we did a fund-raising walk for Jack’s foundation in December and they were so welcoming. I’m stunned by this.”
‘Not the place I know’ says ex-Miss England
Former Miss England Elizabeth Grant is backing Derian House to bounce back from its internal turmoil and continue the “wonderful” care it gives to children and young people.
The 21-year-old Preston student, who became a fundraising ambassador for the hospice after her success on the beauty pageant circuit, confessed the picture painted by the CQC report was “not one I recognise.”
“I’m shocked, that isn’t the Derian House I know and love,” she told the Post. “It has always been a wonderfully positive and happy place.
“I’ve never ever felt the staff weren’t happy. They are always so welcoming.”
Elizabeth’s first experience of Derian House was as a five-year-old when her older sister Melanie was cared for there before she died of a brain tumour at the age of 12.
She too was cared for by staff as a grieving sibling and the contact has remained ever since. I’ve been involved now for 16 years and the place is absolutely incredible,” she said.
“The care they gave to Melanie and to us as a family was wonderful. A children’s hospice sounds so sad, yet it isn’t a sad place at all. It is full of happiness and the staff have always been brilliant.
“When I became Miss Preston i vowed to raise as much money for them as I possibly could.
“And when I becaise Miss England I got involved in a project to raise more money.
“Whenever I’ve been in Derian House there has never been any signs of stress or discomfort from any of the staff.
WThey just have this presence and you can feel it’s genuine. And its the same with everyone.
“I was very surprised when I heard the comments in the report. I don’t recognise the picture it paints.
“They say they are making changes to address the issues in the report and I’d put my house on them bouncing back and getting a first class report next time.”