A hospital trust in a city that prides itself on equality operates a culture of "bullying and discrimination", inspectors have said.
NHS Improvement confirmed that Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust has been placed into special measures after Care Quality Commission inspectors highlighted a series of safety concerns and cultural issues.
People from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds reported "discrimination was rife in the organisation", the CQC report states.
Some lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) staff also told inspectors they do not feel as though they are treated equally and feel discriminated against.
Safety issues highlighted by the report include:
- The trust reported seven "never events" in 2015 - including four incidents where surgeons operated on the wrong part of a patient's body.
- There were not enough staff to ensure patients were receiving safe care.
- Patients were kept in surgical recovery rooms - usually just a temporary stop before being returned to a ward or intensive care unit - for up to three days.
- Concerns were also raised over patients treated in a "cohort area", or a corridor, of the emergency department where they were examined without the use of privacy screens and were forced to discuss their medical history in close proximity of other patients.
- Inspectors also highlighted particular issues with cleanliness and raised serious concerns about fire safety.
Professor Edward Baker, deputy chief inspector of hospitals for the CQC, said: "It is clear that the problems we have found on this inspection go right through Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
"It is a matter of some concern that we found there was a distinct disconnect between the trust board and staff working in clinical areas, with very little insight by the board into the main safety and risk issues, and seemingly little appetite to resolve them.
"For some time the trust has been failing to meet national standards on waiting and treatment times, there were high numbers of cancelled appointments and operations, and delays in providing diagnostic results.
"As a matter of priority the trust needs to address the long-standing issues surrounding its people policies and implement an immediate programme of change to improve the culture of the organisation.
"It must effectively address the allegations of bullying and discrimination that we have found. It is now the board's duty to take charge of the issues we have identified and begin to provide the high quality sustainable leadership that is required to deliver the necessary improvements."
Dr Gillian Fairfield, interim chief executive at the trust, said: "It is clear from the CQC report that in many areas the trust has failed our patients and on behalf of the trust, I apologise unreservedly.
"The NHS as a whole is seeing growing demand for services and, like many other trusts across the country, this has caused us significant challenges which has affected the standard of the care we are providing our patients.
"These challenges have been made worse by the fact that our older buildings are not fit for purpose.
"It would be wrong for us to use these pressures and challenges as excuses, however, and we know we should and need to be doing better for our patients and staff.
"The failures identified by the CQC are completely unacceptable and over the last four months we have had, and we will continue to have, a relentless focus on addressing them.
"We are working to develop a culture of equality, fairness and accountability, with sustainable effective leadership, where patients are cared for in an appropriate environment."
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