It’s almost two years since BSUH, along with other trusts in England, established a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. In that time, Caroline Owens has dealt with more than 80 cases, raised by staff from all sectors across the trust.
“My role,” Caroline says, “is to provide support to staff who have a concern about patient care, patient safety or risk within the organisation and who are finding it difficult to raise the issue.” In many cases, once an individual has discussed their concern with Caroline, they feel more confident to pursue it for themselves. However, in some situations she will take a more proactive role to raise the concern within the Trust. The freedom to speak up role was set up throughout the NHS in response to events at Mid-Staffordshire, where hundreds of patients died as a result of poor care at Stafford hospital between 2005 and 2009. “The thinking behind the role was that what happened in Mid Staffs could happen anywhere,” Caroline says. “During the inquiry, led by Sir Robert Francis, it became clear that staff had tried ‘to call the problems out’. The Francis Report recommended that every NHS Trust should have someone whose role was to support staff, and to keep persisting. “The NHS is being encouraged to be an organisation where people are able to speak up freely, so the role is vital,” Caroline explains. “There are occasions when people feel they can’t speak out, and this role acts like a safety valve.”But it has to be a two-way process, she says. “People need to speak up responsibly, and those on the receiving end need to listen and hear effectively. It’s a skill set that needs to be learned and practised. It isn’t always easy, but it’s important if we are to deliver great patient care and keep our patients and staff safe.”In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need a freedom to speak up guardian. But, Caroline says, every organisation could benefit from having someone people can go to if something is really worrying them and, for whatever reason, they don’t feel heard through the usual reporting lines. “Speaking up about any concern you have at work is so important,” she says. “It’s best done at the time and with the person in charge, so there is an opportunity to deal with the matter there and then. Speaking up helps us to keep improving our services for all our patients, as well as improving the working environment for all our staff.”
Contact Caroline Owens at: firstname.lastname@example.org; Ext. 62870, Mob. 07387 259307.