2 November 2022

'Some teams slipping backwards' but culture is improving says hospital boss

| Lottie Twyford
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Dave Peffer

Canberra Health Services boss Dave Peffer Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Culture is – for the most part – improving at The Canberra Hospital. That’s the message from Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer, but he conceded in annual reports hearings this week this still isn’t the case across all teams.

“The short answer is yes [culture is improving],” he said.

“The reality is some teams are still struggling. Some are going backwards.”

Mr Peffer has long warned publicly he would not be afraid to move those in senior positions on if they were consistently displaying poor behaviour.

Surgeon

Dr Muayad Alasady was suspended with pay from Canberra Hospital in March this year. Photo: Facebook.

Earlier this year, the case of suspended cardiologist Dr Muayad Alasady was made public thanks to a Federal Court case he attempted to bring against the ACT Government.

Dr Alasady wanted an investigation into his alleged misconduct paused and for his suspension to be revoked.

That bid failed in August.

Mr Peffer said it was both “unfortunate” and “not good for anyone”, including the individual, when these sagas played out in the public eye “irrespective of which side of the table you sit on”.

External investigations into the cardiology department became public knowledge several months ago and Mr Peffer has previously confirmed other, similar investigations are underway.

Some details of a deep-dive culture review conducted by former Fair Work commissioner Barbara Deegan into the intensive care unit have also been made public, but the review itself has remained private.

Legal action has also been launched by a director of the ICU who is attempting to sue the hospital.

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ACT Greens crossbencher Johnathan Davis had questioned how the well-being of teams was being looked after as allegations of bullying and misconduct became increasingly public.

The hospital boss said sometimes the reporting could be “a little far from the truth” regarding what was happening behind the scenes.

He said in the case of the now highly publicised saga of the cardiology department, a fortnightly forum had been set up where operations, processes and timeframes could be discussed and staff had a chance to ask questions.

“Bear in mind, these investigations are undertaken externally … so we don’t always have line of sight … but we sit there and answer until all the questions are exhausted,” Mr Peffer explained.

“That’s probably our best defence against people spreading a rumour.”

Those sessions are attended by the senior leadership team and the senior doctor.

The most recent staff culture survey had returned an engagement rate of greater than 50 per cent and showed culture was at its best in 15 years, officials told the hearing.

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Mr Peffer said he occasionally talked to people working within CHS who said things had been “wonderful” 15 years ago and would like to return to this “golden era”.

“The reality is that the experience for most people 15 years ago was that it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good,” he said.

“The health service has come a long way, and the community’s expectations of its health service have also come a long way.”

That same survey had also ranked CHS slightly above average compared to other health services around the country. Mr Peffer said this came despite individual comments and what was often read in the “public domain”.

The hospital boss said more work still needed to be done and it was not yet time to take his foot off the accelerator.

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A third independent workplace culture review will be completed by former senior public servant Glenys Beauchamp later this year.

This follows an earlier review conducted by the former head of the Department of Human Services Renée Leon. Her review late last year found that more work still needed to be done to address bullying and harassment.

Mr Peffer confirmed in December 2021 that some staff had been shown the door due to some “long-standing behaviour”.

Both of these were preceded by the 2019 damning workplace culture review which found 12 per cent of staff had been subject to physical harm, sexual harassment or abuse, and more than half of these incidents were perpetrated by a colleague.

That review made several wide-ranging recommendations following the initial review, all of which were accepted immediately by the ACT Government.

ACT Health confirmed in July all of those were formally considered to be met, but culture work was ongoing.

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