Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust reached the final of the 2021 HSJ Awards after demonstrating a commitment to supporting all workers to speak up.

Melanie Hurdman, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at WAH, has engaged in proactive work to ensure all workers across the organisation feel able to speak up. This includes raising awareness, joining networks to contact diverse groups of workers, and creating a Freedom to Speak Up ‘portal’.

Melanie has identified some groups of workers who could potentially feel vulnerable if they speak up. She has created links various support networks, including the BAME network, LGBT network, Disability network and the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action Committee. Workers in these groups are now more aware of how to access support, and there is a growing number of Freedom to Speak Up Champions from these networks.

The increased number of Freedom to Speak Up Champions use posters and badges so that workers know who they are.

Freedom to Speak Up is part of the induction process for all new starters, but engagement is also beginning even before workers take up a post. Melanie speaks to first- and third-year midwifery students from the University of Worcester, explaining how they can speak up when working at the trust. There are plans to extend this offer of support to nursing students.

The introduction of a speaking up portal is another way Melanie is supporting hard-to-reach workers. This provides an alternative route for speaking up. The portal, accessed via the trust intranet with the option of confidentiality, includes a live chat function (three days per week) and a booking system so workers can arrange an appointment with Melanie.

In the 2019/20 financial year, 44 cases were brought to Melanie. After the portal was introduced, there have been 104 cases raised between October 2020 and November 2021. Since then, WAH has continued to develop the portal and its speaking up processes to make sure it is accessible for all workers. For example, a trifold leaflet has been placed in clinical areas for those who are unable to access the intranet.

Melanie has also forged links with the guardian at neighbouring Wye Valley NHS Trust to share good practice. For example, learning of the successful roll-out in Herefordshire of the Freedom to Speak Up learning for healthcare managers, WAH decided to mandate this learning too.

The trust’s commitment to embedding Freedom to Speak Up starts from the top. Anita Day, the Non-Executive Director with responsibility for Freedom to Speak Up at WAH, has regular one-to-ones with Melanie and there is an open door to the Chief Executive. The senior leadership team have added a weekly Freedom to Speak Up blog in the trust’s e-newsletter which is circulated to all workers.

This leadership support has helped to contribute towards an improvement in speaking up culture at WAH. Chief Executive Matthew Hopkins said: “This result is testament to the hard work of our Freedom to Speak Up Guardian Melanie Hurdman and her predecessor, the late Bryan McGinity, who have ensured that speaking up arrangements and culture have remained at the forefront of our safety and quality agenda.”