Bullying and harassment is rife in the workplace at South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), according to an independent report.

Employees reported sexual harassment, including sexual grooming alleged to have happened in the Kent area, persistent criticism, and being treated in a disrespectful or rude way.

Around one third of the more than 2,000 participants in a survey said they were exposed regularly to gossip or rumours, being insulted or being excluded.

A quarter said they were teased or mocked, “encountered jokes that go too far” or faced “persistent criticism”.

One employee told researchers: “Being called cloth-ears [because of hearing difficulties] and stupid does hurt. I take it out on my kids when I get home”

The report by Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University added: “Work environments such as these often lead employees to feel vulnerable and isolated and for some to have suicide ideation.”

Workers said they faced high workloads, procedures not being followed, excessive monitoring, and that their opinions are ignored.

Between 30 per cent to 60 per cent of respondents reported exposure to ‘unreasonable management’ behaviours on an occasional or regular basis.

More than a quarter (28.4 per cent) of staff said they had been humiliated or ridiculed in connection with their work while nearly half (48.2 per cent) said they were treated in a disrespectful or rude way.

The report, published today after four months of research, indicated that managers were most frequently responsible for this behaviour and said interviewees and attendees at focus groups “genuinely feared for their job security in speaking out.”

Women working for the organisation told researchers about “sexual favours being sought in return for career progression”.

Some said “my a**e was slapped regularly” and others felt they were demeaned by "highly sexualised gazing" in front of colleagues and even patients.

Responding to the findings chief executive Daren Mochrie said: "I would like to thank Professor Lewis for his expertise in writing this report, although I am truly disappointed and upset that so many of our staff have experienced bullying and disrespectful behaviour in the workplace.

"In the time since my appointment in April this year, it has been very clear to me that SECAmb is full of extremely dedicated and professional people who are concerned about caring for their patients as well as each other.

“However, I was also aware that the Trust is facing a number of challenges and areas where vital improvements need to be made.

"One such area was high reported levels of bullying and harassment evidenced by our staff survey and from last year’s CQC inspection. We chose to commission this independent report to help us address this worrying issue.

"The behaviours it describes are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated, in any sense and at any level, moving forward.”

The trust said Human Resources action will be taken against individuals “where necessary”.

SECAmb Chairman Richard Foster added: "I and the whole Board take the findings of the report extremely seriously.

“It is now important that we work closely with staff to build a very different workplace, where all staff will be supported and where poor behaviours will not be tolerated."

The research was conducted through an organisation-wide survey of all SECAMB staff, “numerous” more than 150 hours of one-to-one telephone interviews.

More than 2,000 workers responded to the survey which is a rate of more than 50 per cent of all SECAMB employees.