My experience as a Freedom to Speak Up guardian

Wayne walker blog picture

Wayne Walker, Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) guardian and multi-skilled technician at Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust, describes his experience in the guardian role.  This is the first in a series of blogs by Wayne.

My experience as a Freedom to Speak Up guardian

I’m one of seven Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) guardians based in the south west - a beautiful part of the country. I’ve lived and worked here since I was 22 and have been employed in the NHS for the past 20 years. Day-to-day, the team I work in maintains the hospital building and complex medical equipment. We are often behind the scenes, but like so many essential services are very important cogs in the system. 

For the past 18 years I’ve been on call 24/7, often working at 3am in the morning. This is a side of the NHS that many people forget about – but the NHS does not close. Working in the hospital is different to a regular job, we’re directly effecting people’s health – one thing we all need, to be able to enjoy this journey we call life.

I first spotted an advert for the FTSU guardian role in January 2016, which led me to do some further research. I began to discover great people like Julie Bailey, Sir Robert Francis and Helene Donnelly – to name a few. They were really making a difference to people’s lives in the NHS, people not dissimilar to those in my organisation who want to speak up but think it will become more hassle than it’s worth, or depend on others to raise concerns. 

I began to feel very passionate about the subject and when that happens it stirs your beliefs, purpose and respect for the NHS - a great employer to many people.

The interview for the FTSU guardian role was very rigorous, but I believe it had to be. The knowledge of policies, procedures, processes, employment law - the list goes on, all fall under this role. My previous experience as a union representative for ten years gave me a good base knowledge for those questions. Knowing these technicalities about the role is essential to be an effective guardian. When a member of staff raises a concern, you need to know whether it is an issue concerning acceptable behaviour, an employment issue, terms and conditions, data protection or to do with compliance. 

When I started in my new role as a guardian, one of the main things I loved about it was meeting people and hearing about their passions and role in the organisation. However, I did find that some senior staff didn’t like the idea of concerned staff being able to question their decisions – the body language says it all sometimes! 

As a collective of guardians, we’ve presented to a variety of people, from board level to managers to consultants. Standing up and discussing a subject that is feared including how we would like to change organisational culture, how we would like staff to be empowered and how we want them to speak up about patient safety is a pretty difficult task. Our talks did generate a lot of interesting feedback – mainly from the people who ask lots of questions. Like anything though, there are a few myths circulating that could install fear in staff - but we just remind them that they can speak to us in confidence so hopefully we can address them. 

In my role, I do sometimes question why such a caring community finds it hard to share their concerns through fear of detriment. Of course not all NHS communities are the same, but we as Freedom to Speak Up guardians/advocates/ambassadors want to make that change so that individuals feel confident to step forward.

My goal is a simple one - to make sure staff feel free to speak up about patient safety and effectiveness of the service so we can provide safe and compassionate patient-centered care. And the people who can make that work? You, the 1.3 million staff in the NHS.

Further reading
You can read more guardian related blogs from Christopher Hall and Heather Bruce in this section using the retain and improve and raising concerns filters.

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