'Staff need to know it’s safe to speak out'
Health commentator Roy Lilley told delegates at the Florence Nightingale Foundation annual conference last week that he didn’t know why managers didn’t crawl on bended knee and beg their staff to tell them when there were problems in their organisations.
He said he couldn’t fathom why directors wouldn’t want to be told when things were going wrong. We couldn’t agree more Mr Lilley.
This week is the anniversary of the Speak Out Safety campaign launch. Last year, in the wake of the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, we heard of several NHS staff who felt terrified to speak out. Helene Donnelly, the nurse whistleblower from Mid Staffs A&E, had been held up in the Francis report as a paragon, but was ignored, bullied and threatened at her trust. But she wasn’t alone. Former United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust chief executive Gary Walker broke his gag to disclose allegations of how he’d felt pressured to put targets before patients. His speaking out created a watershed - and other health workers flooded our inbox with their tales of raising concerns that had gone wrong.
The campaign was launched to encourage trusts to say they will listen to staff who raise genuine safety concerns, treat them with respect and try and resolve them
Speak Out Safely was launched to encourage trusts to say that they will listen to staff who raise genuine patient safety concerns, treat them with respect and try and resolve them. That’s the sort of NHS Berwick, Keogh, Francis, and surely everyone, wants.
And yet a year on, just over 70 trusts out of the 300 or so that could sign up, have. Universities and private companies have been encouraged to join the ranks of organisations who seek out staff intelligence and act on it, but few have pledged their support.
Comedian, journalist and GP Dr Phil Hammond asked delegates at the Florence Nightingale Foundation conference to raise their hands if their trust had signed up to Speak Out Safely. Very few did.
I am delighted those organisations who have sighted up are supporting SOS, but Dr Hammond highlights the importance of this SOS anniversary week - in getting the message out there and encouraging more trusts to sign up. I cannot understand why any trust wouldn’t sign up and tell its staff it’s safe to raise concerns.
If your trust is signed up, you can see it on the roll of SOS glory at nursingtimes.net/sos. If it isn’t, then you need to ask why.
As Ms Donnelly told the conference, she just knew “something wasn’t right”. Staff often do. If you want to avoid your trust becoming the next scandal-hit hospital, you need to make sure people will and can speak out when something isn’t right. No one should have to face the horrors that Ms Donnelly experienced. And definitely no patient or relative should have to face them.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed