Due to annual leave and guest blogs I haven’t written to you for a few weeks, but as I watch the current situation in Afghanistan unfold, I wanted to check in with you all and to offer support.
This is no doubt an extremely worrying and distressing time for our Afghan colleagues and members of our local community and I want you to know that my thoughts and those of everyone at BTH are with you. Please speak out should you need help, advice or support.
The news from Afghanistan will also significantly impact many people in our armed forces and veterans’ community. Whether you have been deployed yourself, or have relatives, friends or colleagues who have served in any conflict, this news may bring very intense feelings.
Please be reassured that these strong emotions are perfectly normal and are to be expected, but please do seek appropriate help if you need it. The Military Veterans’ Service for Lancashire has a wide range of support mechanisms to support you through this challenging time. We also have our very own Armed Forces Champion who is there to support colleagues and patients.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for help choosing the right support.
These are generally difficult times, so if you are experiencing any problems with your mental or physical health and wellbeing, please don’t delay in seeking the help you need.
And I will now hand over to this week’s guest blogger, our Staff Guardian Jane Butcher, who is another invaluable source of help, support and guidance…
Every NHS trust must have a Freedom to Speak Up (FtSU) Guardian to give independent support and advice to staff who want to raise concerns and I am fortunate to hold the position as the Head of the Freedom to Speak up Guardian’s Office across both Blackpool Teaching Hospitals (BTH) and East Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (ELHT).
Guardians work with all colleagues at all levels, to ensure NHS trusts become more open, honest and transparent places to work. I feel really passionate about this service and whilst it can be challenging, I love my job and can honestly say that over my 23 years carer in the NHS this is the most rewarding position I have ever held.
People are encouraged to ‘speak up’ without fearing the consequences about anything that is worrying/concerning them, our campaign is “If you see something, say something”, I am fortunate that my role is a joint position and I work with colleagues across both Blackpool Teaching Hospitals (BTH) and East Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (ELHT), supporting them to raise concerns about anything that is worrying them at work.
And whilst the number of concerns raised has risen each year since I began in the role in 2017, I think this is positive testimony to the value of the service and both Trusts have invested in a team which includes Nicola Bamber (nee Canty), Freedom to Speak up Guardian based at ELHT and Lauren Staveley, Freedom to Speak up Guardian at BTH. In addition, we have Freedom to Speak Up champions in a variety of teams from both organisations which adds diversity and lived experience to the support we’re able to provide. We also have support at the highest levels of the Trust, with an Executive Director, Kevin Moynes, responsible for FtSU.
I’m really proud of everything the team is able to do and the difference we’re able to make to people’s lives and experiences at work and most importantly the excellent care that this allows us to give our patients.
I would actively assure patients and their families, carers, partners and our stakeholders that the fact we have this confidential/independent service for which our colleagues can speak out is very positive for them too. Colleagues are encouraged to come forward and raise issues which we work together to resolve, improve and learn lesson. This most definitely has a positive impact on all our services.
We know one of the main reasons colleagues do not speak up is that they fear they might suffer detriment. Another is that they don’t believe anything will change as a result. I want to be clear, everyone at the joint office feels very passionately about helping to bring about tangible, measurable change and ensuring no one who speaks out receives detrimental treatment because of it. We have the full support of both Trust boards to enable us to deliver our service effectively and to embed the culture of “speaking out” throughout both Trust.
It’s important to note that the office is completely independent too. We are guided by the National Guardian’s Office (NGO) which is an overarching body which in turn works closely with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC is the main regulator of healthcare services in the UK, primarily focused on NHS operations.
I am from a human resources background and there is a big part of the work that involves working with the HR/OD teams at both Trusts. It’s important we’re aware of current and emerging policies so we’re able to triangulate the intelligence we have from concerns and input into developments. We are key voices around the table who can describe what it’s really like to work for the Trusts. We also want to be active in supporting colleagues who are within a HR process, so they know we can help.
But it’s of paramount importance that colleagues internally and partners, patients and their families external to both Trusts know that we are completely independent in our work.
It can be a difficult role albeit I wanted to be the Freedom to Speak Guardian for a very long time. Throughout my career I have always wanted to make a difference and support colleagues ensuring we can deliver excellent care to our patients. It touches everyone and if we get it right, and together we can make the biggest difference possible.
There can be a lot of sadness, frustration, upset, distress and even anger at times from colleagues who come to the team for help and support and sometimes they just need to off load and have time out for someone to listen and we are here.
There have been and we continue to see some very concerning cases which are upsetting for us too.
The emotional burden can be intense and we support each other as a team within the constraints of confidentiality. I am also able to access regular sessions with occupational health who help me to work through some of the trauma and the heartbreak that others we are supporting are going through. This really helps me to go home to my family each night and continue to function effectively from day to day.
Freedom to Speak Up is of course just one way in which colleagues can raise concerns. The others include raising issues with your line manager or escalating it within your own area if you feel you can. Everyone has access to the Exec and senior leadership teams in both Trusts and there should be no barriers to linking in with someone if you have a concern. If there are, we need to understand and address that too.
It can be difficult to speak out though, especially if you’re feeling unsure about something. That’s where a lot of people come to see the Guardian’s. We can coach colleagues about how to approach an issue and how to raise it themselves with their manager or someone relevant. We can even accompany and support colleagues who feel that they may just need some extra support to sit down and speak to their managers about a concern they may have and come to a resolution together. You’d be amazed how many times we raise an issue with a manager on a colleagues behalf and the Manager is encouraging and supportive and wants that person to come and talk to them in more detail to help and support.
Of course there are those that are scared of what might happen if they speak up. I make no apologies for repeating the message that the Guardians, along with the Trust board are determined to ensure no one is treated detrimentally because they have spoken up or out and that everyone who does is thanked for doing so.
My message is that there is no wrong reason to contact the office. As the slogan says – If you see something, say something. We really mean it. From concerns that are raised we can examine facts, give feedback and learn lessons and create lasting, real tangible outcomes and improvements that make a difference to the organisation.
Head of Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’s Joint Office