A Queensland MP has used parliamentary privilege to blame the loss of high-level public health staff on the Sunshine Coast on a toxic culture in the hospital and health service, which he told parliament has been ignored by the hospital’s board and state health department.
- The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service was in crisis before the pandemic, Queensland Parliament has been told by an MP
- An anonymous whistleblower blamed the “harsh” culture on former management
- The Opposition says the department and Health Minister have failed health workers across the region
Buderim MP Brent Mickelberg read from a letter written anonymously and released under Right to Information laws that described the health service as being “in crisis”.
The letter also called for the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service’s former chief executive, Naomi Dwyer, to be sacked.
The letter was addressed to Queensland Health director-general John Wakefield.
“The work environment was described as harsh, punishing, chaotic and increasingly dysfunctional,” Mr Mickelberg told parliament on Tuesday.
“The letter states there were serious failings in duty of care and no action was taken by the hospital board or Queensland Health despite them being aware of the issues.
“People were too afraid to make a complaint, because if the CEO or chief operating officer found out, their careers would be over — the threat was that real.”
Mr Mickelberg said the letter ended with an appeal that Ms Dwyer and chief operating officer Karlyn Chettleburgh have their contracts terminated.
The undated letter was penned and sent some time between mid-2019 and mid-2020, before the start of the pandemic.
Mr Mickelberg said he fought to have the documents released after requesting them in April last year, when Ms Dwyer was still in her role with the health service.
He said she resigned in June that year, six weeks after his request was made.
A Queensland Health spokesman confirmed there had been concerns over “workplace culture” and that these were “appropriately investigated and addressed”.
“All employees are encouraged to report unacceptable behaviour so appropriate action can be taken,” he said in a statement.
The spokesman said workplace investigations were kept confidential to protect the privacy of those involved and that the department would not comment on any specific investigations.
One in five staff reported bullying
The documents released to Mr Mickelberg and viewed by the ABC include a 2019 employee survey that was completed by 2,294 workers.
Staff were asked to consider the statement “my organisation is well managed”.
Forty-three per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
It also found 22 per cent of staff questioned in the survey reported being bullied in the previous 12 months.
Of those, almost half said they were bullied by a fellow worker, and one third reported being bullied by a direct manager or supervisor.
“The most negative reported factors were management of poor performance, unfair recruitment and selection, workload, red tape and approval processes,” the report found.
It also found staff were less likely to tell others they were proud to work for the health service and less likely to recommend the organisation as a great place to work.
Mr Mickelberg told parliament the letter showed the hospital’s board, minister and health department leadership had failed to protect health workers on the Sunshine Coast.
“If only the hospital board and Queensland Health acted when they were first made aware of the bullying and intimidation, or when executives and high-level medical staff started dropping like flies,” he said.