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.
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.
“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”.
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.
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.