Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) were highly commended in the Freedom to Speak Up Organisation of the Year category at the 2022 HSJ Awards.

The OUH Freedom to Speak Up team, led by Interim Lead Guardian, Dr Taffy Makaya, was recognised for enhancing staff engagement and implementing improvements following a review of the Freedom to Speak Up service at OUH.

The OUH Strategy 2020-2025 enshrines the board’s commitment to an open, inclusive and just culture in which everyone feels valued, and can be confident that their feedback, ideas and concerns will be listened to and acted upon appropriately.

Acting upon the findings of an audit of the Freedom to Speak Up service at OUH, the team began a review of the service, with the aim of giving all OUH workers the opportunity to have their say on what would most effectively enable them to speak up. “We wanted to hear what workers thought a good Freedom to Speak Up service looks like,” says Dr Taffy Makaya.

As part of this review and to raise the profile of Freedom to Speak Up within OUH, a month-long series of online Listening Events, focus groups, and a trust-wide survey were held.

The well attended Listening Events, engaged specifically with key staff networks, including the networks representing Black and minority ethnic workers, disability and accessibility, LGBTQ+ and the women’s network.

The Listening Events also increased visibility of senior leadership’s commitment to Freedom to Speak Up, with board members and executive and non-executive leads taking part. Senior leaders pledged to the Trust’s Engagement Promise, and this visible commitment has increased the credibility of the Freedom to Speak Up route.

Moved by the feedback from the Listening Events, the board has also committed to strengthening the Freedom to Speak Up team developing a network of local guardians embedded within the clinical divisions as well as volunteer Freedom to Speak Up champions who work across different sites, to help staff feel safe and confident to speak up, as an essential part of promoting a compassionate and inclusive culture throughout the Trust.

Improvements continue to be implemented to ensure that all workers can easily access advice and support if they have a concern relating to something that affects not only them, and which may adversely impact patient care or working life. As a result of the increased engagement, the Freedom to Speak Up team have seen an increase in non-clinical and contract workers using the guardian route.

Participation has also improved in the NHS Staff Survey 2021. OUH performance was above the national average on questions of whether staff:

(Q17a) feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice (74%)

(Q17b) are confident that their concern will be addressed (60.8% compared to national average of 57.6%)

The HSJ Awards Judges commented that this nomination was “a great example of how a diverse, multidisciplinary Freedom to Speak Up team works which has visible board support”. Also, that ‘The team presented impressive improvement scores’ and ‘the work felt integrated, and supportive of other agendas such as the people plan.’

Taffy Makaya, Interim Freedom to Speak Up Lead Guardian at OUH, said:

“Being Highly Commended at the Freedom to Speak Up Awards at the HSJ Awards 2022 is excellent recognition of the amazing work done by my hardworking and deserving colleagues in our Freedom to Speak Up team, and of the contribution made by colleagues with whom we collaborate across the Trust. It is also a recognition of the support and backing we get from our Senior Trust Leaders. Together we are continuing to work hard to deliver a service which supports the speaking up culture at OUH”.