Case study from the Freedom to Speak Up team (Abbie Silvistris, Rickman Betts and Afshan Ali) at South Tees NHS Foundation Trust.

At South Tees NHS Foundation Trust, we have some of the most talented and experienced workers in the country, but they haven’t always been listened to when it comes to the way services should be organised.

This was something the Care Quality Commission told us in 2019 that we needed to fix. Since then, we’ve been on a journey to get back to our best.

Following a report by Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in June 2020, the Trust has embarked on developing a new model. The guardians’ report suggested that Freedom to Speak Up Guardians who were expected to undertake other more senior roles may seem less approachable to workers and that a team of guardians recruited from all levels of the Trust with a variety of backgrounds would be better able to meet the needs of workers.

This new model has seen a shift in both the way Freedom to Speak Up is implemented and the views of the 9,000 workers the guardians are supporting. The Board members, from Chair down, have been proactive in ensuring the Freedom to Speak Up service was strengthened, and that guardians had access to senior people whenever they needed.

To achieve the aim of having a truly representative team, following an open selection process, a team of four Freedom to Speak Up Guardians working on a part time basis were appointed in September 2020, giving 75 hours of protected time for the role. This was felt to be essential if the Trust and the team were to meet their objectives.

The team’s first priority was to raise the profile of Freedom to Speak Up across the whole of the Trust and its satellite sites, to inform all workers about the role and how to access the confidential and impartial service on offer.

To achieve this, the team engaged in a number of strategies, including personal visits to all Trust sites, marketing materials, attending training and meetings and forging links with Union representatives, Equality and Diversity and Chaplaincy groups. The team have also been working with the Trust’s Leadership and Quality team to embed compassionate leadership throughout the organisation and supporting our managers to be better leaders.

Other successes in the first six months have included:

  • A new Freedom to Speak Up Policy for the Trust.
  • Developing a robust communications strategy.
  • Having Freedom to Speak Up training included as part of mandatory training for all staff based on the National Guardian’s Office training for workers and for middle managers.
  • A network of 17 Freedom to Speak Up Champions to support the work of the guardians, with ring-fenced time for Champions to train and get regular updates.
  • Setting up a secure reporting system for staff with multiple avenues to access the service.

Over the last six months, verbal and written feedback has shown that workers feel secure in speaking up and are confident that we will deal with their concerns in an impartial and fair way whilst respecting their confidentiality at all steps of the process.

One worker said:

“I have been impressed with the process and how I have been dealt with since raising my concerns. I am hopeful that there will be significant changes in my place of work, going forward from this. I am glad I spoke to guardians and would be willing to do so again.”

This case study was featured in the 2021 Freedom to Speak Up Index Report. You can read the report and more case studies here.