This year has been challenging for everyone across the NHS. COVID-19 and the lockdown has meant we have all had to work differently and take on more responsibilities to ensure excellent patient care.

These changes and challenges mean that providing our colleagues and teams with the freedom and ability to speak up has never been more important.

Solent NHS Trust achieved the second-highest score in the country for its positive speaking up culture in the recent FTSU Index Report. A lot of work has gone into promoting the service across the trust over the last 12 months, and this has been crucial in maintaining our excellent score.

We put great emphasis on how a speaking up culture has a beneficial impact on the care that we provide to our patients and on our ambitious vision of keeping more people healthy, safe and independent at, or close to, home.

Over the last few months, we’ve had to adapt and alter the way we work. Remote virtual working has meant we’ve had to create a different way for colleagues to contact us so we can continue to provide an accessible service.

We set up dedicated surgeries every weekday morning – with one of the team of seven guardians on hand to support colleagues with questions or queries. We’ve dealt with everything from issues around social distancing and hot-desking to Personal Protective Equipment.

We have had many more colleagues from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community contact us following national guidance around high-risk groups. Having our guardians in place really helped those with concerns as we were able to signpost them to what the trust has been doing around risk assessments, the support available through our BAME and Allies Staff Resource Group and our dedicated BAME staff Zoom calls where anyone could ask questions or seek support.

Prior to COVID-19, we had already established good communication with our colleagues and embedded Freedom to Speak Up within our culture. We promoted how we could help colleagues in regular internal communications and our team of guardians actively attended team meetings across the trust to encourage greater reporting.

I believe having that trust and confidence in our guardians at Solent has enabled us to continue to score highly in the FTSU Index Report – people know our names and faces and feel comfortable sharing their concerns creating a safe, warm and friendly space for people to speak up.

All our guardians have different skill and abilities – from clinical to non-clinical and working across levels within the organisation. This means that colleagues can find the relevant guardian who is best placed to help them.

We want to continue to drive this forward as we know there is a very strong correlation between trusts that have a positive speaking up culture and trusts that are rated highest by the CQC. We believe that maintaining this culture really provides us with solid foundations for us to move from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ in our CQC ratings.