Guest blog by Dawn Hodgkins, Director of Regulation, Independent Healthcare Providers Network
Speak Up Month provides the ideal time to reflect on the importance of all parts of the healthcare system – including the independent sector – embracing the “speaking up” agenda as a way of improving the safety and quality of care we deliver.
At a time of ever greater pressure on the healthcare system – dealing with the rising numbers of patients requiring treatment post-pandemic on top of an ageing population with more complex needs – it is vital that everyone working in healthcare looks at what can be done to drive continuous improvement.
A key part of this, and what Freedom to Speak Up Guardians help to foster, is an open culture and a sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity throughout organisations so that problems can be identified and dealt with at an earlier stage.
Indeed, as made clear in IHPN’s recent Medical Practitioners Assurance Framework (MPAF) which seeks to improve medical governance in the sector, workers at all levels are the eyes and ears of any healthcare organisation. They notice when safety is compromised or is at risk of being comprised, for example, when actual working practices are different to the organisation’s policies; when leadership fails to recognise closed cultures; or perhaps through poor reporting of adverse events or near misses. However, it is not always easy for workers – regardless of their role – to raise matters.
The MPAF therefore recommended that all independent providers should have effective systems in place to enable staff to speak up and should appoint Freedom to Speak Up Guardians throughout their organisations. And I’m pleased to say that the sector has really embraced this movement, with over 100 Freedom to Speak Guardians already in place. During the pandemic, many providers produced bespoke ‘Speak Up’ guidance that centred on the management of concerns relating to COVID-19 – encouraging open dialogue and allowing workers to manage issues in a timely manner. This was complemented by regular reviews of their Speak Up infrastructure to evaluate their systems and processes.
Likewise, providers across the sector have worked hard to embed the importance of speaking up throughout their services, for example holding quarterly calls with Freedom to Speak Up Guardians across their organisations to provide updates and share best practice, and actively encouraging their guardians to meet with their local NHS Trust counterparts to learn and share from each other’s experiences.
As many have argued in recent years, healthcare can be a hierarchical business and that’s why the Freedom to Speak Up movement is so important. Freedom to Speak Up Guardians not only provide a structure for concerns and issues to be raised, but also help develop a culture where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information, and report mistakes and ultimately drive improvements.
As part of Speak Up month, I therefore urge all those working in the independent healthcare sector to raise awareness of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and encourage many more to be established. Not only will you be fostering a culture where people can speak up and be confident they will be listened to, it will play a pivotal role in further improving the care provided to millions of patients every year.