Anne Hiscock, Dorset HealthCare University Foundation Trust

Each year, we as Freedom to Speak Up Guardians take pride in celebrating Freedom to Speak Up throughout the month of October.

Working for a Community Trust with around 8,000 workers and 350 sites across a large geographical area is a huge challenge.

We have workers from all walks of life, in a wide range of roles. Workers who communicate and receive communication very differently. There’s no denying how complex our organisations are and so it can feel almost impossible from a guardian’s perspective when trying to reach out to everyone.

Due to the busy nature of their roles, plenty of nurses and clinical colleagues rarely read emails. Domestics and Porters read emails even less. If they are lucky enough to have a break during their shifts, they almost certainly will not be inclined to pick up a newsletter in the staff room.

But what I have seen many of them do during their well-deserved breaks is reach for their mobiles and catch up with the outside world. They usually consume social media for a bit of light relief, which is where my live vlogs have been well received.

For me, it’s about accessibility. It’s about people getting to know who I am, what I look like, what I sound like. Do I look as though I could be trusted with their fears and concerns? Workers don’t get this from a leaflet or a poster or even from the weekly Trust communication email.

Up until a year ago, I was a full time Hospital Matron. When we went through the first wave of COVID-19, updates from central government were coming out quick and fast; no sooner had I updated the team, the guidance had changed again. This was when I decided to do my first live vlog – just to my teams – and I came to realise how much workers appreciated it. Subsequently, my hospital audience grew week on week.

I came into the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian role last July. With this experience in mind, I thought I would give the live vlogs a go on the Dorset HealthCare Staff Facebook Group, and it has worked really well.

Some workers just ‘like’ the videos; others would ask questions or pass comments. Suddenly, it created conversation in a more casual way and over more than one day.

Pop music and Freedom to Speak Up

I can’t remember what exactly inspired me to add pop music to my vlogs and Facebook messages – I think I wanted to add a bit of fun and lightness to the messaging. Each week, I wrote about a particular pop record: the date it was released, where it got to in the charts, what the lyrics meant.

Each record I selected had a link to Freedom to Speak Up. Week one was Aretha Franklin with ‘Freedom’ (Blues Brothers). The next week was ‘Where is the Love?’ by the Black-Eyed Peas. George Michael’s ‘Freedom’ was included in the following week. I sneaked in an extra Aretha record with ‘RESPECT’ and my finale was ‘If I Can Dream’ by Elvis Presley – inspired by Martin Luther King Jnr.

Each week, I had everyone guessing what the next record might be. So, we were able to share a giggle while simultaneously raising the profile of Freedom to Speak Up within the organisation during what was a very dark time in the NHS.

Alongside this, I held one-hour Microsoft Teams meetings every day through October to enable workers to drop in and meet with me almost person to person. For each session, I had a different member of the Trust Board with me and we met the most amazing people in our organisation that we would otherwise not have met. Our workers had the opportunity to meet and talk with our Senior Leaders which promoted the ‘Board to Ward’ conversations at a time when COVID-19 restrictions prevented this from taking place in the usual way. It was so very rewarding for all of us.

In June, I presented my annual report to the Board which was well received. In the report, I highlighted several key learning points I had gleaned over the previous 12 months. I put these points into a slideshow – just one slide – and emailed out to a targeted audience to share with their teams. And guess what else I did? I presented the learning points in one of my live vlogs just recently, which kick-started a whole load of new conversations about Freedom to Speak Up and how great things can be if we all just keep talking and supporting each other.

I have just completed the Freedom to Speak Up Vision and Strategy for Dorset HealthCare and look forward to sharing it on my next live vlog. Although the words are very different, in principle their meaning matches exactly to Elvis’s sentiments from his ’69 comeback tour – If I Can Dream.