Far too many people, who hold positions of power, are dragging their feet and not addressing how to make it safe for staff to speak out, says Helene Donnelly
It is a year since the launch of the Speak Out Safely campaign, and also since I started my role as ambassador for cultural change at Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership Trust. Following on from my experiences at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and giving evidence at both Francis inquiries, I have been trying to increase awareness about the importance of staff raising concerns when things are not right. I know full well how daunting and frightening this can be, for a variety of reasons, which is why the culture in the NHS needs to change.
I am dismayed that more trusts have not yet signed up to the Speak Out Safely campaign and find this concerning. Why would trusts not sign up? Of course the act of signing up to the campaign alone is not enough, but it is a start.
“Why would trusts not sign up to the Speak Out Safely campaign?”
Trusts and organisations that do sign up must truly agree with and adhere to the campaign’s message. The best way for these organisations to demonstrate this is to actively encourage staff to raise concerns and support them when they do.
One way of achieving this would be to endorse and implement roles such as mine. This would ensure that when staff speak out their voices are heard at the highest level and chief executives can monitor actions taken and common themes of concerns.
In addition to staff from my own trust raising concerns with me, I am frequently being contacted by individuals from all over the UK who have tried to speak out at their own trusts, but find they are ignored. I help to signpost them in the right direction to seek further assistance. However, there is a limit to what I can do alone. This clearly identifies a need for my role to exist nationally in all NHS trusts and private care sectors too.
When staff step forward and speak out about genuine concerns, all they want is to be listened to, believed and for action to be taken to address the problem.
I have been hugely encouraged by the positive responses from managers and staff at my own trust. It is all of our responsibility to make sure we know how to raise concerns should we ever need to. We must also have support and protection when we do.
It has been all too easy for many to pay lip service to the importance of supporting health and social care staff to raise concerns.
I know that 12 months on from the Francis report, there is still scepticism and cynicism in relation to speaking out. Many staff across the UK are still, simply, too afraid.
Far too many who hold positions of power - and who could affect change - are still dragging their feet while patients and staff continue to suffer. At best they are still considering how best to address the issue of supporting and protecting those who do speak out. At worst, they are in complete denial, and believe that they do not have a problem with staff feeling able to raise concerns in their organisations.
This is a dangerous mix and I believe the following action must be taken: all trusts and any organisations with links to health and social care should sign up to the Speak Out Safely campaign; all trusts should implement a role similar to my own to actively inform, encourage and support staff to speak out at the highest level; all staff must have mandatory training on raising concerns; and all trusts must have a national standardised policy on how to raise issues of concern.
We all still have a very long way to go, but together we can change cultures and ensure that improvements are made for all. It just now requires less talk and more action.
Helene Donnelly OBE is ambassador for cultural change at the Staffordshire and Stoke-On-Trent Partnership Trust