Ingrid Torjesen writes about the new Creating a Supportive Staff Culture category in the HSJ Awards this year

Creating a Supportive Staff Culture is an important new HSJ Award for this year. It will be awarded to an NHS or private organisation that has gone above and beyond to ensure that it has made a positive cultural change where workers feel able to speak up freely, with confidence and without fear of negative consequences.

The award is sponsored by the National Guardian’s Office, an independent, non-statutory body, which aims to lead cultural change in the NHS so that speaking up becomes business as usual.

“My office made the decision to sponsor this award because we believe that the best organisations are those that are forward thinking and genuinely appreciative of what their workforce can teach them,” says Henrietta Hughes, national guardian for the NHS.

An improved culture

“This award will recognise the efforts organisations have made to create a supportive culture for workers, and highlight the important contribution of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and the tireless work that individuals in that role do to support workers and bring down barriers to speaking up. It’s an excellent opportunity to gain recognition for the efforts we know many organisations are making and a great showcase for those efforts that others can learn from.”

All organisations, whether public or private, are expected to take steps to encourage an improved culture within teams and between individuals, including appointing Freedom to Speak Up Guardians who can highlight areas where change is needed and help drive that change.

“The work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians makes a significant difference to the ability of organisations not only to understand issues that their workers face and that concern them, but to act upon them and use them as learning points to continuously improve and progress,” Dr Hughes explains.

Last year the National Guardian’s Office held its own awards – The Freedom to Speak Up Awards – which were presented at a ceremony, hosted by BBC Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross, on 19 October 2017 at County Hall in London.

”Enabling workers to speak up is a fundamental step to creating a supportive staff culture, enabling good patient care and high quality services and improving the lives of NHS workers”

One of the five awards presented was the Learning From Speaking Up Award, which recognises how speaking up can be used to promote learning and improvement across organisations. This went to Nick Harper at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust who used his own experience of speaking up when mentoring and presenting to different staff groups, demonstrating how the lessons learnt can facilitate speaking up.

Dr Harper also met with Care Quality Commission inspectors to give an account of his experience of speaking up so that inspectors can understand the impact on the personal and professional life of workers when best speaking up practice is not followed.

Dr Harper says that he “was humbled” to win the award.

“It’s important to work with a range of colleagues from different organisations to develop processes that ensure lessons are learnt and colleagues are praised for speaking up and not criticised,” he emphasises.

“As someone who has spoken up about patient safety throughout my career, I believe it is important that we ensure the wellbeing of staff groups, particularly new staff, which should be at the heart of all speaking up processes. Every NHS worker, wherever they are in their careers, should feel able to speak up safely.”

Kirsty McMullan from the The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust picked up the Leading the Change to Speaking Up Becoming Business As Usual Award, recognising an individual or team for demonstrating the leadership needed to make speaking up become “business as usual”. McMullan, who said she was “delighted” to win the award, established a network of support across her trust to respond effectively to concerns that are raised.

“When workers speak up they are not only being listened to, but actions are being taken,” she said. “Attending staff roadshows, drop-in sessions and publicising anonymised case details in regular newsletters helps reassure colleagues who have spoken up that they can make a difference. It also demonstrates to the wider staff community that speaking up is celebrated as a means of improving quality of care for patients and staff.”

The other three Freedom to Speak Up Awards were: Speaking Up Together: the Freedom to Speak Up partnership Award, recognising the connections and partnerships that are being forged to enable all staff to speak up; Speaking Up: The Freedom to Speak Up Communications Award, recognising creativity and innovation in spreading the Freedom to Speak Up message; and Freedom to Speak Up Guardian or Network of the Year, recognising excellence in promoting and supporting Freedom to Speak Up across a trust.

This year the awards have been combined into a single prestigious HSJ award for which entrants are expected to provide examples of integrated cultural staff support mechanisms which enable workers to speak up free from worries about effects on their employment and demonstrate how they encourage workers to speak up and use speaking up as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Emphasising the importance of the category, Dr Hughes says: “Enabling workers to speak up is a fundamental step to creating a supportive staff culture, enabling good patient care and high quality services and improving the lives of NHS workers. In fact, I would go as far as to say workers will never feel supported if they can’t speak up and if their organisation does not embrace speaking up as means of learning and improving.”

The HSJ Awards are now open for entries. For more information click here