10 November 2023

Unredacted staff survey results reveal 'absolute horror story' at ACT Health, Liberals say

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Leanne Castley in the Assembly

“The survey found clear, consistent concerns about communication, workload, planning, organisational structure, people and performance management, induction, training, morale and adherence to employer/employee obligations,” Leanne Castley said. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A survey of the ACT’s Digital Solutions Division has found staff are “at breaking point” due to unsustainable workloads, a toxic culture and a lack of trust in leadership.

The survey of the teams responsible for the rollout of the Digital Health Record (DHR) reported “many instances of staff in tears”.

The Canberra Liberals have called the findings an “absolute horror story” and say they are further proof an Auditor-General review of the entire DHR project is needed.

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The negative results of the survey have now been published after the ACT Ombudsman overturned a freedom of information decision to only release positive feedback.

“I consider that both the positive and negative feedback provided in the staff survey would contribute to an informed debate on an issue of public interest. An informed debate requires a balance of information be considered,” the ACT Ombudsman decision said.

The unredacted negative results speak of “a culture of humiliation and intimidation”.

General comments from interviews with staff refer to “a lack of trust in leadership”, bullying and harassment claims, poor training and development, and unmanageable workloads.

screenshot of the report

The negative comments were released after the ACT Ombudsman overturned an FOI decision. Image: Supplied.

“People are not happy – in fact, they are really angry and anxious,” the report said.

“They will sweep problems under the carpet and will tolerate unacceptable behaviour if the person is a high performer.”

“When staff complained about uncivil behaviour, [they] were told by another party to get over it.”

When staff were asked what could be done better, the comments included “you are breaking people” and “would love to say but don’t want to be sacked”.

screenshot from the report

The report includes multiple references to staff being burnt out and stressed. Image: Supplied.

ACT Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley requested the ACT Ombudsman review the Health Directorate’s FOI decision in March 2023.

Ms Castley said the results of the review are a “familiar story in the ACT public health system”, but in the case of the DSD, “even though there is much that is good, what’s bad is harrowing”.

“The survey found clear, consistent concerns about communication, workload, planning, organisational structure, people and performance management, induction, training, morale and adherence to employer/employee obligations,” she said.

“The Health Minister should now heed the Ombudsman’s view that this frank feedback could have a positive effect on future engagement if the issues raised are acted upon, rather than being swept under the carpet.”

Ms Castley said she has referred the staff survey to the ACT Auditor-General, who is currently contemplating an audit into the DHR.

Ms Castley has long been calling for the Auditor-General to investigate the DHR program, which she has called a “fiasco”.

She said records acquired under FOI laws show the system is in shambles and has numerous performance issues.

“The argument for an audit of the DHR rollout is now undisputable,” she said.

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ACT Health said it respects the role of the ACT Ombudsman and accepts the decision made regarding the FOI request.

“ACT Health respects the confidentiality of staff, which is integral to their ongoing, honest and full participation in the Division Health Check. We want to ensure our staff feel safe to share their views and experiences,” an ACT Health spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the directorate is committed to responding to the concerns raised by the staff survey and enacting cultural improvement across the workforce.

“The Division Health Check is just one way we seek to hear and respond to the concerns of staff,” they said.

“We remain committed to responding to the concerns identified in the Digital Services Division Health Check and are also mindful that the Digital Health Record project was an intense period of work that impacted on staff.”

The spokesperson said divisional leadership are working with staff to enact workplace improvements in response to staff survey results.

This includes reviewing current work programs and workloads, reviewing rosters to better promote staff health and well-being, implementing processes to improve transparency in recruitment, and team workshops to support the building of cohesive teams and positive work culture.

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The Workplace Coach11:57 am 12 Nov 23

It’s a shame that it took the Ombudsman to get the full results released. It’s now time for the department to really acknowledge what their staff have been saying and start working collaboratively to find solutions. People need to see progress instead of rhetoric to be able to believe things are going to change.

ACT government is run like fightclub. Rule #1 don’t talk about it.

The only ones that get promoted are the ones that are ok with the culture.

I do wonder if the whole thing will fall over if we had a change of government. All the back channels would be broken.

If Leanne were to ask how many family members were recruited by the previous CIO, or how many favourite staff were promoted without merit or interview. Only an FOI away.

this is the reason for external audit. How can Government deal honestly when it has already attempted to suppress? Nobody wants that job. What were staff turnover figures? How many people resigned because they were sick and had no faith in HR, how many HR staff themselves left instead of dealing with powerful people? Refusing to perform exit interviews is disgrace in this age. Why were digital services managed out of high-profile work because they showed zero respect or ability to work maturely with others on a trust basis? What has been the impact of digital services across other health services project and government with arrogant relationships, poor understanding of contract, spiteful management and now cutbacks to pay debt when horses have bolted stable? Until there is proper governance and detailed exam there will be zero trust and that should be part of any fix.

No surprises here. I’ve learned that I can’t work in either the ACT government or the Federal government as there are too many hidden agendas, too much obscure and often deceptive communication, so that it is unclear what is expected until you get it wrong. Poor managers do not set clear expectations and requirements, no support or guidance along the way until you deliver something that is what you think was required, but it’s not what they want.

If only managers understood how to effectively manage staff and where they don’t, they should be taught by a knowledgeable HR team or outside provider, mentored by a capable senior manager, all of whom could provide clear scientifically proven models of how to manage people well. Sadly, everyone’s too busy hiding their own shortfalls, instead of seeking new knowledge and skills, because they’re afraid of the consequences of being seen as not sufficiently capable. Good training and coaching is missing.

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