Heather Bruce has been a Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) Guardian at The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) since July 2015. She also continues to work as a radiographer at Furness General Hospital where she is the Industrial Relations rep for the Society of Radiographers.
The Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) campaign launched following the Public Inquiry into Mid Staffordshire Robert Francis found that those staff who had tried to raise concerns, also known as whistle-blowers, had been ignored and sometimes treated very badly.
Robert Francis then wrote the Freedom to Speak Up report, published in February 2015, where he found that bad treatment of whistle-blowers was historically widespread throughout the country.
Heather has told us about her role as Freedom to Speak Up Guardian:
“Having been the FTSU guardian at UHMBT for two and a half years, the FTSU campaign continues to reach out to everyone who works in the Trust – we have had concerns raised from all groups of staff and also from volunteers and governors. The rate of raising concerns has steadily risen, which is a good thing; we want our staff to raise concerns as soon as they arise rather than letting them escalate. The recorded cases for August 2016 to August 2017 totalled 86, an increase of 52% on the 45 cases recorded from 2015 to 2016.
No one day is the same, but most days involve meeting up with staff, promoting the FTSU campaign through education, and escalating concerns while supporting staff who have spoken up. Once a member of staff has been in contact then it is a case of meeting up, defining the concern and expectations and agreeing how to escalate the issue.
My days are divided into being proactive and reactive.
The proactive part of the job is very time consuming. We are a geographically challenged Trust with Morecambe Bay dividing our sites physically and walking the floors talking and engaging with staff takes a long time, but that is still the most effective way to get the message out there, to make speaking up business as usual.
Staff, and that includes everyone who works in the Trust, must speak up because we know that our patients won’t.
As soon as we become a patient, we are vulnerable – we don’t even have to be the patient to feel that vulnerability. When we accompany a loved one to the GP or hospital that is not the time that we want to challenge the clinician’s standards of practise, hand hygiene, behaviours or any other aspects of care that we may feel needs attention – and as we will probably all be patients one day, we need to take ownership of our hospitals because they will be looking after us and our loved ones well into the future.
With all the publicity generated around my role – 10,000 leaflets, a prominent presence on the Intranet, local news and social media, I am quite recognisable now; so quite often I meet up with concerned staff off Trust premises and sometimes out of hours. It is essential that it is as easy as possible for staff to speak up.
Aware that many clinical staff are very busy and sometimes cannot access Trust communications, UHMBT launched the first Freedom to Speak up App in January 2017 – this means that staff can download the App for free, check out the FTSU policy, phone me directly or email me from their smartphones – it has also given a way to raise concerns anonymously if they do not want to be named.
Freedom to Speak Up really is for everyone in the Trust. I’ve had a number of staff come to me with concerns that I have been able to help them with – though some concerns are definitely easier to resolve than others. I have had some gratifying feedback when staff feel that their concerns have been listened to and addressed. One of the things I’ve noticed is how much staff appreciate being kept informed of developments in relation to their concern, so that they know that they haven’t been forgotten; historically this may not always have been the case.
FTSU is all about patient safety. I really do get a lot of job satisfaction by being able to support the staff to speak up for our patients. Some cases are challenging and complex in an organisation of about 5,500 staff but FTSU is a campaign and it is essential to keep up the momentum. We now have a higher national profile as the National Guardian’s office was established in April 2016 and so is a good support. Because of the FTSU work on combining digital and traditional communications with staff engagement, UHMBT won the first National Award for communications which was a good recognition for the success of our campaign.
For me the best feedback I can receive is seeing improvements and maintenance of the quality and safety of patient care – and staff who have spoken up now recommend FTSU to their colleagues. We have to remember that it is a campaign and so the promotional work continues and as long as we carry on speaking up for our patients then we are improving.”