STAFF morale in the ambulance service is still “poor” two years after it was placed in special measures due to bullying and harassment.

East of England Ambulance Service Trust chief executive officer Tom Abell told Essex County Council the trust had closed half its 170 employee relations grievances and expects the remainder to be closed within three months.

Appearing before the health overview policy and scrutiny committee, Mr Abell also said he hoped the trust would be out of special measures next year.

The trust was put into special measures in September 2020 after a Care Quality Commission inspection found senior leaders failed to respond appropriately to instances of bullying and harassment.

Mr Abell told the meeting: “As you will all be aware, this organisation has been one which has been troubled for some time, both in terms of its response times, in terms of meeting the needs of our communities, but also in terms of a number of cultural issues that have been exposed through CQC reports and other regulatory interventions the trust has had.”

Mr Abell, who was appointed to the top job in August 2021, also said about 80 per cent of the CQC’s recommendations have now been completed and the trust was working on a set of exit criteria.

It has invested more than £170,000 in staff health and wellbeing over the winter, including increasing support for mental health.

The trust has also seen issues with recruitment because of its record of “inappropriate behaviour”.

In addition to workplace culture, Mr Abell also told councillors C1 response times, those for the most life-threatening emergencies, had improved over the Christmas, new year and early January period.

According to Mr Abell, the most critically ill patients were now regularly getting responses in less than ten minutes, achieved partly by re-allocating resources and responders.

However, Mr Abell also said the root cause of slow handover times, getting patients into hospital and ambulance crews back on the road, has not yet been identified although hospital capacities are likely to be related.