Dawn Hodgkins IHPNSpeak up Month provides an 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. And this year’s theme – “Freedom to Speak Up for Everyone” – is a welcome reminder of the need to make speaking up “business as usual” for everyone in the health service; regardless of job role, background or circumstance.

And as a sector which delivers care to millions of both NHS and private patients every year, independent healthcare providers are committed to playing their role in a fostering open, just and learning cultures where speaking up is encouraged.

Indeed, the National Guardian’s annual Freedom to Speak Up survey published earlier this year showed that independent healthcare providers have seen a real improvement in the “speaking up” culture in their organisation over the last year. Overall the report found that almost four fifths (78%) of respondents from independent healthcare providers said their organisation’s “speaking up” culture had improved over the last twelve months.

Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in the independent sector were also found to devote more of their time on the “proactive” aspects of their role – such as working within their organisation to tackle barriers to speaking up. Over 70% of Guardians in the independent sector spend at least half of their time focussing on “proactive” aspects, compared with just over 50% of those from NHS Trusts and other parts of the healthcare sector.

While of course it’s encouraging to see independent healthcare Guardians working so proactively in the sector, there is still much more to do on this agenda to ensure speaking up is fully imbedded in all independent healthcare providers.

To help support our members on this journey, we were pleased to be joined at IHPN’s annual Patient Safety Conference this year by the National Guardian, Dr Jayne Chidgey Clark, who spoke about how providers can better understand the importance of speaking up at all levels in their organisation.

This includes really interrogating and acting on the data that providers collect in their organisations. For example, looking at what the rate of anonymous cases are and what this might mean indicate about an organisation’s speaking up culture. Equally, understanding what the organisational routes are for speaking up and what barriers there might be in place throughout different parts of the speaking up journey will be vital in encouraging a more open environment. Getting feedback from people and groups who have spoken up, and ensuring organisations “close the feedback loop” is also key. And above all, having curiosity about your speaking up culture, and really reflecting on these issues from the “top of the office” down so that all parts of the organisation feel confident and able to speak up is an integral part of this journey.

And this is so important in healthcare – a sector which can be seen as hierarchical and top down.  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.