Olwyn Williams, a Personal Assistant working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, emailed Tamera Howard, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (DHCFT), about the trust’s ‘retire and return’ policy.

“I have been advised that it is not applicable to me because my post is deemed as ‘not hard to recruit to,’” she wrote. “I have completed 41 years’ unbroken full-time service in the NHS, including 23 years’ working in CAMHS. I am requesting to return to my present role, with no reduction in hours.”

Olwyn questioned how the refusal to retire and return could be considered fair and equitable, and in line with the trust’s values. She was aware that in other trusts, ‘retire and return’ was permitted on all pay-bandings, so challenged how there could be such varying policies between different trusts. Olwyn loved her role and was keen to retire and return back to the team she knew and valued and was proud to work for.

She had contacted her manager initially, who had approved the request, but this was then not approved by senior management due to the trust’s policy content and wording. She then contacted members of the trust’s HR team. But while they were sympathetic and supportive, they also said that the policy must be adhered to.

After meeting with Olwyn, Tamera emailed senior HR managers within the trust, attaching a copy of the ‘retire and return’ policy for another local trust. Having spoken with a buddy Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at this trust, Tamera knew that staff there were able to retire and return with greater ease as the policy did not include the ‘hard to recruit to’ wording.

They recognised that a policy review was needed. This led to a discussion at the next Executive Leadership Team meeting, before being brought as an agenda item to the DHCFT staff forum, where representatives of teams across the trust discuss issues with the executive team.

At the staff forum, Tamera raised the issue of making the ‘retire and return’ policy equitable and fair for all.

“Ifti Majid, our Chief Executive, said that compassionate leadership means doing the right thing. The trust values place staff first and he wanted to make the trust a ‘great place to work’. That means taking out the ‘hard to recruit to’ wording of the policy,” said Tamera. “When I told Olwyn, she was delighted, but I alsohad to explain that this was going to take time to progress. Once the policy changes were agreed, each case for ‘retire and return’ would still need to be determined individually on a business case basis. ‘Retire and return’ is not without costs and for some services, it still might prove a challenge to administer. She would still have to raise her case to her manager who would escalate up to senior management for approval.

Olwyn’s application to retire and return was finally approved a yearafter her initial application.

“I have over 120 emails in my folder relating to this case and the process has taken nearly six months,” said Tamera. “But it will have a significant impact for staff. I have now met with other admin, clerical and clinical staff who were not viewed as ‘hard to recruit to’, who also hoped to retire and return.

“Olwyn’s persistence and refusal to give up have played a significant part in the outcome here. Her case shows what can be achieved when we have confidence in taking concerns further and choosing the right forums to raise concerns within. It also illustrates what happens if we are actively listened to when speaking up,” concluded Tamera.

Olwyn said, “Tam was very positive and encouraging and I would not hesitate in speaking up again. I received regular updates from her, each step of the way. In my role, I supervise admin staff, and I have encouraged them to approach the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian if they have anything they want to speak up about.”

This case study was part of our 100 Voices publication which accompanied the 2019 Annual Report.

Case studies are vital to illustrate the good work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians. We encourage all organisations to share the learning from their speaking up stories.

If you have a Freedom to Speak Up story to share, please send an email to [email protected]