Freedom to Speak Up Guardian – an interview with Kevin Sole | News and events

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NELFT NHS Foundation Trust provides a range of  community health and mental health services across the north east London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, Essex and Kent and Medway

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Freedom to Speak Up Guardian – an interview with Kevin Sole

The Freedom to Speak Up Guardian roles were created nationally in 2016 and there are now more than 500 across the UK. NELFT’s Freedom to Speak Up Guardian is Kevin Sole, who is the Assistant Integrated Care Director for Mental Health & Learning Disability Services in Barking and Dagenham. To learn about the role, what the benefits to staff are and how to contact the Guardians, we spoke to Kevin…

What is the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian role?

Following the Mid-Staffordshire inquiry, Sir Robert Francis QC, published his report on the Freedom to Speak Up review. In his report Sir Robert set out 20 Principles and Actions which aimed to generate the right conditions for NHS staff to speak up and air concerns about substandard and sometimes unsafe patient care and treatment, without fear of reprisal for doing so or concern that they would not be listened to if they did.   

The Freedom to Speak Up review recommends:

  • A ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’ to be appointed in every NHS trust to support staff.
  • A national independent officer to help guardians when cases are going wrong.
  • Processes established at all trusts to make sure concerns are heard and investigated properly.

The purpose of the role is to work alongside trust leadership teams to support the organisation in becoming a more open and transparent place to work, where all staff are actively encouraged and empowered to speak up safely.

The role includes supporting workers who wish to speak up, ensuring that they are thanked for speaking up, that the issues they raise are responded to, and making sure that they receive feedback on the actions taken as a result of them raising an issue. Guardians also work proactively to tackle barriers to speaking up and to promote openness and transparency.

Why did you want to take the role?

I originally trained as a nurse for people with learning disabilities in the early 80s. The hospital I trained at was a large institution and as a young 18-year old, I saw ghastly practice which will remain with me for the rest of my life. I saw staff driven out for speaking up and I vowed that when I qualified I would never allow such practice to happen on my watch and ensure that people were treated with dignity and respect at all times. I later trained as a social worker where safeguarding vulnerable people was paramount and a significant element to the role, which I enjoyed. In transactional analysis I have a tendency to be the ‘nurturing parent’, so with all this in mind, I was really attracted to the role.  

How did you get nominated?

A global email came around asking for nominations, for which I put myself forward, I had to submit a statement of why I was interested in the post and what skill I could bring to the role. What followed was a Trust-wide ballot, where staff had to vote on who they wanted to be their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. I am extremely honoured and grateful to have been nominated.  

What are the benefits for staff?

Speaking up should be normal practice, not a perilous omission to a practice of keeping one’s head down. Every staff member within the Trust from frontline to board level has a responsibility to promote a culture where speaking up about legitimate concerns can take place without fear of bullying, discrimination or harassment.

Staff can feel more confident that their whistleblowing concerns will be listened to and they have a safe channel in which to speak to somebody who is acting in an independent way to support them, especially if they do not feel confident to discuss the issues with their line manager.

Staff should also be more aware of whistleblowing and that as a Trust we want a culture which learns from concerns where we have not followed good practice and implement change to ensure patient safety is paramount at all times.  

How do you see the role being expanded?

As NELFT expands, so does the role of the Guardian, as we have more services and a larger geographic area to cover.

Furthermore, all Guardians within England (for which there are over 500) are governed not only by their own organisation, but also by the National Guardian’s Office for the NHS, which has also expanded its role and expectation of all Freedom to Speak Up Guardians. We have therefore decided to develop a business plan for a permanent Freedom to Speak Up Guardian and several Associate Guardians across various localities within the Trust, so watch this space.

Thanks to Kevin for his time.