During the COVID-19 pandemic, a staff experience survey at Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust included feedback that “the engine was screaming”. Workers did not feel the Trust prioritised their wellbeing. Workers were concerned because of high levels of redeployment and the uncertainty of staffing and the pandemic.
Jacqueline McIntosh, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, brought these concerns to the attention of the Head of Culture. This led to a series of skills development sessions, with training and working shadow shifts for those who were likely to be deployed. As a result morale began to improve, with engagement showing higher for those who were redeployed.
In response to the staff experience survey, and as a reaction to the Omicron variant, the Trust increased Jacqui’s ring-fenced time from 2 days a week to full time during January 2021. By widely publicising the role and support available for people, particularly at a time of sustained pressure, Jacqui saw a 2200% increase in cases.
This responsive practice was repeated in 2022 during the winter pressures and cost of living crisis. Jacqui’s hours as a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian were again increased to full-time and she will return to her usual hours of 2 days a week in Spring 2023.
The increased time during this period allowed Jacqui to promote Freedom to Speak Up at the Trust and reach out to those who face barriers in speaking up. Jacqui regularly meets with the Trust’s three networks – BAME, LGBTQ+ and Enable (for disabled workers at the trust) – and has recruited a champion role in each. In addition, there are also champions in midwifery, patient safety and training teams to extend the service to those who are less likely to speak up.
Support from senior leaders, especially the Head of Culture, Nageeta Paul, and Director of People, Tom Nettle, resulted in an increase in awareness of the Freedom to Speak up network. This flexible approach to guardian resources demonstrates how being responsive to the needs of the workforce can support people effectively in difficult times.
Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust was shortlisted for the 2022 HSJ Awards for “Freedom to Speak Up Organisation of the Year”. Jacqueline McIntosh, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at Homerton, said:
“The Trust is actively working to make Homerton the place to be, by developing our culture and improving our staff experience with an active, responsive Freedom to Speak Up service a core part of this which ultimately benefits our patients and our community.”