Emergency care charity files serious incident report after staff denounce ‘toxic’ culture

24 Apr 2024 News


An emergency care charity has filed a serious incident report with the Charity Commission after some staff and volunteers described its working culture as “toxic”. 

Some 26 current and former staff and volunteers at Lincolnshire Integrated Voluntary Emergency Service (LIVES) told the BBC that there is a culture of bullying and belittling staff at the charity. 

LIVES’s trustees rejected the allegations and said its accusers were pursuing a “vendetta” against the charity. 

Earlier this year, a critical inspection report by the Care Quality Commission raised concerns about staff turnover, sickness and allegations of bullying from senior management at the charity. 

A petition launched in January calling for LIVES’s first-ever chief executive Nikki Cooke to resign due to “inadequate leadership” has gained over 500 signatures. 

Culture of ‘bullying and belittling’ staff

Among the current and former employees who contacted the BBC about their time at LIVES, three said they had considered taking their own lives. 

Nine called the charity’s workplace environment “toxic”, while 12 said working there deteriorated their mental health. 

Some 11 people said they or their colleagues were retaliated against after whistleblowing about patient safety or raising concerns about management decisions.

One told the BBC: “It's the most toxic environment I ever worked in. I’ve seen grown men reduced to tears.”

Andy Bateman, who was LIVES’s finance officer between 2018 and 2020, said it was “probably the most caustic place I ever worked”, and that he was shouted at and belittled by management. 

“I have never known anywhere with such a high staff turnover or bad morale. I worked in some reasonably high-risk businesses, but nothing was like there,” he told the BBC.

“There were more investigations and employment clashes than I think I encountered at any other time in my career.”

Allegations ‘completely without foundation’

LIVES told the BBC that the allegations were “completely without foundation”.

It said it does not single out staff who raise concerns and will only refer employees to the appropriate regulator “where it has reasonable grounds and only after following due process”.

In many cases, employees’ mental health problems “predated their employment with LIVES”, the charity said, and “in any cases brought to our attention we have offered the appropriate support”. 

LIVES added that disciplinary proceedings were “carried out by independent professional consultants” and only “when it’s proper to do so and after other options have been exhausted”.

The charity has had “no records of a single incident of a whistleblowing disclosure in the last eight years”, nor “a single case of a disciplinary outcome which has been successfully challenged”.

A Charity Commission spokesperson told Civil Society: “We’re continuing to assess information reported in the media about potential concerns at LIVES and are engaging with trustees, who, in line with our guidance, have filed a serious incident report.”

LIVES: These people ‘have an axe to grind’

In a statement, LIVES’s trustees said they have “full confidence that the charity is well run and robustly managed”.

“We very much regret that a small number of former employees are pursuing what appears to be a vendetta against LIVES. 

“The staff and trustees certainly don’t recognise the characterisation of our charity as portrayed by the BBC after reporting complaints from anonymous former members of staff.

“It’s truly saddening to see people, who we believe have an axe to grind, being given a platform to air their grievances without the burden of having to produce hard evidence to support them. 

“The charity exists solely to help those in the community most in need and has carried out that mission successfully for more than 50 years.

“Our commitment is to continue that good work and seek new ways to maximise our positive impact on Lincolnshire.”

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