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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.