The right of NHS staff to speak up and effective communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

Our NHS staff are doing fantastic work to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and keep essential services going – their hard work and dedication during this difficult time is remarkable.

As the NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens made clear in his letter of 29 April to NHS chief executives, it is important to remind everyone of the duty – and right – of those who work in the NHS to speak up about anything which gets in the way of patient care and worker wellbeing.

Staff continue to be free to speak in a personal, trade union or professional body capacity. Now more than ever, their observations and feedback can act as a crucial element of ensuring safe care for patients.

The document ‘Freedom to Speak up: Raising concerns policy for the NHS’ details the national speaking up policies all NHS organisations should have adopted as a minimum standard. Organisations may have also created guidance alongside their patient safety incident reporting systems.

Freedom to Speak Up Guardians provide additional support and a route for escalation for any member of NHS staff and a directory is available online.

The NHS is promoting this information to people in the NHS at this time so they are aware of the channels they can use to speak up and be heard.

The only context requiring different handling is if an individual is speaking publicly on behalf of their organisation, so that means representing their organisation in an official capacity,  in these circumstances an individual must have necessary clearances. This point is important to reiterate as the NHS remains in a level four national incident that requires clear and consistent information from all NHS bodies.

Finally, as well as NHS organisations’ active engagement with staff forums, we encourage NHS leaders to liaise with the recognised trade unions for accurate and sensitive understanding of how NHS staff are feeling and to recognise their role in listening up.

All our staff should feel able to raise concerns safely. Diverse and inclusive teams make better decisions, including in the COVID-19 response.

Prerana Issar

Prerana Issar is the first NHS Chief People Officer. In joining the NHS, Prerana brings a wealth of expertise in leadership development and strategic talent management, as well as diversity and inclusion.

Prior to joining the NHS Prerana was Director for Public-Private Partnerships at the United Nations and prior to that she was the Chief Human Resources Officer for the World Food Programme. During this time leading the development of the United Nation’s first strategic human capital approach, as well as the reform of many key policies. Before the United Nations, Prerana worked for over 15 years at Unilever Plc, starting with them in India and then for several years was in global roles at Unilever’s headquarters in London. Her last role in Unilever was Vice-President HR for the Global Foods business.

Prerana gets her strong service ethos from her parents who were both in public service in the Government of India for close to 40 years. A proud mother to a teenage son and a younger daughter she says they keep her grounded with timely performance feedback on a variety of topics. One of the happiest days of her life was when her daughter was born at the Royal Free hospital in London, giving her first-hand experience of the NHS staff who every day deliver outstanding care to patients.