Ellen Pompeo. Picture: Reuters

Ellen Pompeo almost quit 'Grey's Anatomy' over a "really toxic work environment" which lasted for a decade before things changed on set.

The 49-year-old actress has starred as Meredith Grey in the ABC medical drama since its conception in 2005, and has claimed the first decade of the show was riddled with "very bad behaviour" and "toxic" environments that made her want to walk away.

When asked if she'd ever considered leaving the show, she said: "There were many moments. It's funny: I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off. The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behaviour, really toxic work environment."

Ellen admits she decided to stay with the show because she wanted to make sure she could provide for her children - Sienna, nine, Stella, four, and Eli, two - whom she has with husband Chris Ivery.

She added: "But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family. At 40 years old, where am I ever going to get this kind of money? I need to take care of my kids."

And although she struggled through the first decade of the programme, Ellen says she worked hard to create something she could be "happy and proud about", and she was driven to stay in the leading role after she worked closely with creator Shonda Rhimes in changing the way things were run on set.

Speaking to Taraji P. Henson for Variety's Actors on Actors series, she said: "But after Season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera. It became my goal to have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about, because we had so much turmoil for 10 years. My mission became, this can't be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes. Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. That's what's kept me."