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Growing interest in NHS cultural ambassadors


A staff support and engagement role being pioneered by a nurse and former Mid Staffordshire whistleblower could be adopted more widely across the health service, Nursing Times understands.

Ministers and NHS organisations are becoming increasingly interested in the new “cultural ambassador” role in the wake of the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership Trust appointed nurse practitioner Helene Donnelly as its first ambassador for cultural change in April this year. It involves encouraging the community trust’s 6,000 staff to raise concerns as well as raise standards of professionalism.

Nursing Times has learnt that the community trust has been approached by a number of trusts interested in following suit.

In addition, Ms Donnelly is due to meet with health secretary Jeremy Hunt next month to discuss the role and Nursing Times understands the prime minister’s office has also shown an interest.

In a demonstration of the growing profile of the idea, Ms Donnelly was asked to address the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s latest meeting last week to support the launch of the regulator’s revised guidance on raising concerns.

Ms Donnelly told the council she was pleased momentum seemed to be building behind the cultural ambassador idea. “I would like to see my role as an ambassador for cultural change standardised and implemented throughout other trusts,” she said.

Ms Donnelly told the meeting one of the biggest barriers to people raising concerns was that they did not know how to go about it.

She said: “I know there will be a certain amount of cynicism in relation to raising concerns and these issues. But we have to start somewhere and we have to be positive if we are going to save the NHS and nursing professions, which have had such a battering.”

Her role reports directly to the trust chief executive and has complete autonomy to go anywhere and talk to anyone. Ms Donnelly said often the issues raised with her were already known about by someone in the organisation, but the individual concerned felt nothing was happening.

The trust has been sharing the job description and details about the position with other trusts that have expressed an interest. Ms Donnelly said she had also been approached by a number of individuals interested in taking it on in their organisation.

Originally, Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership Trust planned the role to last for a six month period but it is now planning to continue with it longer term.

Trust chief executive Stuart Poyner told Nursing Times that Ms Donnelly’s appointment, as someone who “had been there and done that [at Mid Staffs]”, was helping to increase confidence among staff that their concerns would be listened to and acted on.

He admitted it had “created an awful lot more work” in dealing with people’s concerns fairly and appropriately, but said it was helping to improve the quality of care.

“I fundamentally think there is a relationship between empowering staff, listening to staff and the quality of care that’s delivered. The benefits are intangible but it’s about the overarching culture of the organisation.”

Jennie Fecitt, lead nurse at Patients First, a group that is campaigning for a more open health service, said the widespread use of ambassadors “may well inform, encourage and support nurses to speak up” – as long as they were “empowered by their boards”.

“The broader system which one would hope could support a whistleblower just isn’t there,” she said. “The system is broken.”

The need for such initiatives was emphasised earlier this month by findings from the largest ever analysis of NHS culture and behaviours, which included 300 interviews with staff and numerous surveys.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety, concluded that trusts were often viewed staff who raised concerns as “trouble-makers and whiners”.

The study’s lead author, Professor Michael West, said: “It is especially important that organisations do more to ensure the engagement and health and wellbeing of their staff. Looking after patients requires looking after staff.”

  • Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership is a supporter of our Speak Out Safely campaign, which is calling for more protection from trusts for staff that raise legitimate concerns about patient safety.  

We have written to every trust in England asking their chief executive to support the campaign. Find out more about the campaign and whether your trust has agreed to back the campaign at


Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Of course NHS organisations and Hunt are interested in this. Cultural Ambassadors have no power to affect change. Report directly to the Trust CEO? Aren't they the very people who were highlighted in the Francis Report as the culprits who foster the bullying NHS culture? They really must love nurses who are so stupid to be mugged by another initiative. Keeps Joe Public happy doesn't it?

    Nurses need to set up a 'concern raising' structure which is entirely independent of the NHS or any other healthcare provider.

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  • How much does Cultural Ambassador pay or is it voluntary? Is there a person spec + a job spec?
    Do you get an office with a view, a big stick, and expenses account?
    She should challenge + improve nmc standards + guidelines.
    Politicians and some managers on band wagon on how to improve standards but not really doing anything. It's called delegation.

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  • I think this is a good move but organisations should take a close look at the Brighton Patient Safety Ombudsman Delilah Hesling too

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  • Anonymous | 17-Sep-2013 8:51 am

    Well said. This is a post for suckers and puppets as it carries no power to change anything. Window dressing. All the people jumping on board are those who are culpable!

    Let's have a totally independent organisation with it's own mandate to act. Healthcare professionals have no confidence in any measures which involve reporting serious concerns within their organisations. There is absolutely no trust left. Too many lives of patients and professionals have suffered when concerns have been raised through specified channnels. If that were understood, then time and money would not be wasted on these 'initiatives'.

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  • I would phone a national newspaper and report any concern before I would ever speak to a 'cultural ambassador' (flunky) or anyone else in my Trust. At least something would get done. Job be damned.

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