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LIVES board expresses support for CEO amid resignation petition and CQC rating

An emergency care service has expressed disappointment after a petition was set up calling for its chief executive's resignation in the wake of a "requires improvement" rating by the Care Quality Commission.

Lincolnshire Integrated Voluntary Emergency Service (LIVES) is a registered charity providing care, treatment and transport for sick and injured people in the county of Lincolnshire.

The CQC this week published a report which listed concerns around leadership, safety and effectiveness.

LIVES has come under fire from multiple sides following its CQC rating this week. | Image: LIVES Facebook Page
LIVES has come under fire from multiple sides following its CQC rating this week. | Image: LIVES Facebook Page

LIVES did, however, scored ‘good’ in the categories of caring and responsive.

The report was the first official rating for LIVES after its initial inspection in 2018, which carried no score.

During a visit to the charity on November 14, 2023, inspectors looked into a “period of instability” at the service, reporting high staff turnover and sickness levels.

From November 2022 to October 2023, LIVES responded to over 10,000 call-outs across its teams.

This was achieved despite the previously mentioned staff turnover and sickness rates.

During the same period, a total of 15 staff members left the head office.

The Community Emergency Medicine Services (CEMS) team had an average sickness rate of 8.93 - more than 6% higher than the average rate for head office staff.

Month-by-month from May 2023 onwards, the average sickness rate of the CEMS team never once dipped below 10.5%, leading to staff complaints that patient safety could be at risk.

At the time of the inspection, the charity also did not have an in-date Home Office licence for controlled drugs.

In response, Chair of LIVES’ board of trustees, Thomasin Nicholds, said: “The board of trustees was pleased to welcome the CQC for their recent inspection of LIVES. However, we were disappointed to receive their rating of ‘requires improvement’.

“There are a small number of regulatory matters where we know we can do better, and steps have already been taken to rectify these.

“We will continue to work with Chief Executive Nikki Cooke and the leadership team, who have our full support, to address the findings and look forward to welcoming the CQC back for future inspections.”

However, concerns have been raised by staff members over a “toxic” work culture at LIVES, which was also touched on by the CQC report.

“The service must ensure that it continues to work on the culture of the organisation so that staff feel able to raise concerns,” the report states.

Discussions between inspectors and staff members revealed that some people did not feel they could raise concerns with management at LIVES, but the CQC’s report says leaders “had the skills and abilities to run the service” at the time of inspection.

A recent petition set up by a former staff member, who goes by LIVES Whistle Blower, would suggest otherwise, though.

“Demand the Resignation of LIVES CEO Nikki Cooke for Inadequate Leadership” has been set up on petition site change.org, and at the time of reporting it has over 290 signatures.

Former staff members at LIVES contacted Local Democracy Reporters to provide detailed accounts of their experiences while working for the charity and the impact the job had on their mental health.

Two ex-staffers who worked at LIVES for approximately a year said the first few months were “blissful” before problems began to arise.

They allege that staff were being called into random meetings about their visible mood, leaving colleagues “paranoid and on edge constantly” before creating a mental health spiral for some workers.

To protect their anonymity, the workers will be referred to as Person A and Person B, but both have been verified and confirmed as former staff members at LIVES prior to publication.

“I ended up going to hide in the toilets and crying most days,” Person A said.

“If we weren’t smiling and visibly happy they’d call us into meetings about our mood, so I would just have to go find places to cry — sometimes my car, or a cupboard off of reception.

“I already had problems with anxiety and depression and was on medication. They were aware of my problems but still pulled me into meetings about my mood and not being visibly happy all the time.

“It made myself and my colleagues all feel paranoid and on edge constantly. We didn’t know how to act to stop getting told off for things.”

Person B claims a severe lack of work/life balance contributed to their feelings around working for LIVES, recalling events of being sat on their laptop working until gone 10pm, under pressure from line managers.

They said: “I would often come home and just sit in my car crying, until my partner came in to fetch me into the house to calm down.

“I once ended up so anxious on a Sunday that my partner took me to the UTC to see a doctor, as I was hyperventilating so much I couldn’t even speak.

“This was at the thought of having to go back into work on the following Monday. I was then signed off work and didn’t end up going back in the end at all.”

Both made reference to the charity descending into a “vanity project” for the CEO, and felt the management didn’t understand the toll the work environment was taking on colleagues.

It got so bad that suicidal thoughts began to take over their mindset, which was the final straw for their time at the charity.

“Every single day, I considered killing myself,” Person A said.

They added: “I had to leave that full-time job, without another job available, because of how badly it impacted me.

“It ended up leaving me with several thousand pounds in credit card debt, and I haven’t been able to get a job that pays anywhere near the same since.

“I really liked the job there, and I was really good at it. I got pulled into a meeting where they said they wanted me to become Education Manager in future, but I couldn’t stay because of how bad it had become.”

Person B feels change is needed at the top of the charity for it to get back on track: “There desperately needs to be a management reshuffle. Nikki breeds this hostile and toxic environment and almost seems proud of it.

“Some comments were inappropriately made about my weight and appearance, and I have heard them refer to colleagues as ‘flakes’ because they’ve become upset over the comments they’ve made.”

Responding, Mr Nicholds said: “We were disappointed to learn that a small number of people appear to be seeking to undermine the enormous contribution that our charity and volunteers make to the people of Lincolnshire by setting up a petition calling for Nikki’s resignation.

“Nikki was appointed as the charity’s first Chief Executive in 2016. Since then, the organisation has gone from strength to strength, providing the highest level of care to thousands of people every year and saving hundreds of lives.

“We remain focused on growing the impact that our charity makes and helping patients and their families within our local communities, during a time when they need it most.”

Despite this claim of undermining, both former staff members placed on record their support for LIVES as a charity and recognised the need for responders like this in Lincolnshire.

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