Using data to make speaking up business as usual

The data we receive from Freedom to Speak Up guardians is essential in helping us to understand the impact of Freedom to Speak Up in health.

The National Guardian’s Office Data Portal is now open for all organisations that submit data quarterly to the reconcile their full years’ data until 31st July.

The reconciliation of the data that organisations have submitted to the NGO over the year allows organisations to check that what they have submitted has been entered correctly and to add data where organisations may have missed submitting data for a particular quarter.

The pressures of COVID-19 may have made it difficult for some guardians to submit fourth quarter data.The reconciliation is an opportunity to address omissions and inaccuracies when, understandably, other priorities may have taken precedence.

If you are the individual responsible for submitting data for your organisation you can login to the Portal here

To help you use the portal, guidance can be found here

Why is the collection of data useful in helping to improve how we make speaking up business as usual?

Data provides real insight into what workers are speaking up about. It can shine a light on which workers are speaking up (nurses, doctors, etc), what they are speaking up about (bullying, patient safety, etc.), and It can help us understand the extent of issues such as cases raised anonymously and detriment.

So, while the data provides insight for the NGO into trends and themes, and in turn informs our work, it is primarily a tool for organisations to use to gauge their own progress around speaking up and where they may focus going forward.

The reconciled data provides insights into the trends and themes of matters which are being brought to guardians.

“Part of my role is to enable the National Guardian’s Office to be more data driven,” says Sam Bereket, Intelligence and Case Review Manager at the NGO. “That means using the data to help us be more agile and responsive to what it is telling us.”

One way in which data informs the work of the NGO is in relation to our partnership working with NHS England/Improvement (NHSE/I). We keep NHSE/I abreast of organisations that either do not submit data or that provide a nil return – that is to say report that no one has spoken up throughout an entire quarter.

“This data means we can be proactive in working with our partners in getting a better understanding of the challenges which organisations are facing,” says Sam, “and in helping organisations to address those challenges and embed Freedom to Speak Up effectively.”

As part of the National Guardian’s Office’s case review process, the Case Review Team look at a range of data, including submissions by guardians. “If the guardian is reporting a disproportionate number of anonymous cases, for example, that can help us to build a contextual picture of what speaking up might feel like for some workers in that organisation,” says Sam.

Speaking Up data informs the National Guardian’s Office policy and work programme and helps us to identify areas which need increased focus. It also helps us to develop ways we can improve our support to the Freedom to Speak Up network.

“Last year, the Data Report showed a persistent 5% feedback to guardians that they face detriment,” says Sam. “Following on from that, one of our priorities is to dig deeper into this issue, to better understand how detriment is being recorded and what organisations are doing in response, among other things.”

The information shared by guardians contributes to a pool of data which can be accessed by anyone with an interest in making speaking up business as usual for all workers in health. We are currently working with the Model Hospital Team at NHS Improvement and sharing speaking up data with them to give a broader picture of how speak up data is also reflected in other cultural indicators, for example WRES Indicators.

This pool of data can be examined by guardians and their leadership teams to understand how effective speaking up arrangements are in their organisations, compared with other organisations.

Sam offers a word of caution: “Although this data can provide context, it’s not normative, by which I mean normal, doesn’t necessarily mean good. For example, there is no right or wrong number of speak up cases an organisation should expect to be brought to a guardian. But this data can provide a context, if viewed together with other information, like the FTSU Index.”

Although the NGO collates this data, it is important to emphasise that the data belongs to the organisations that submit it and reflects an aspect of their speaking up culture. While organisations shouldn’t seek to ‘benchmark’ their data against others given the significant differences between different organisations i.e. size, type, etc. it can be helpful to provide some context.

For example, when it comes to levels of anonymity or detriment, while the NGO can share an average, organisations can reflect on why their levels may be above or below the average, along with other indicators. Any anomalies could provide an indicator that they need to take a closer look.

Phil Gordon, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at two North-West Trusts, uses this speaking up data to help him to provide context for what is happening with regards to speaking up in the organisations he works at.

“Board members love to benchmark!” he observes. “Our figures on their own don’t give the whole picture.” By using the median of the speaking up data across all Trusts, Phil is able to share context with the board.  “Using the speaking up data provides a context for peaks and troughs,”  he says. “The general trend is of an increase in contacts with some seasonal variation. For example, when I had an increase in casework, I was able to show the board that this brought us in line with the median for organisations, following a communications campaign to raise awareness.

“Using the data also helps alert me when there are any anomalies,” says Phil. “At Stockport, quality, safety, attitudes and behaviours featured less in the last few months.  So I checked with a senior leader who confirmed that these issues were coming through Silver command. The increased emphasis on policy and procedure mirrored what I heard through direct engagement work, namely that the hot topic amongst staff was the changes in working practices in response to COVID-19.  I liaised with Staff Side, who confirmed that they were noticeably busier, but there were no deeper patterns by location, professional group, or nature of policy.”

Phil uses this information as part of his toolkit when reporting to the Board. “As I had a range of sources, this led me to feed back to senior leaders that Freedom to Speak Up is looking good at the moment, but that HR / unions would potentially be the best barometer for how staff are feeling.”

Data is therefore important, both for the NGO and other stakeholders, but most of all for the organisations that submit it.

Once the reconciliation period is complete the NGO will publish its annual Data Report. You can read last year’s here.  This draws out many of the themes and trends that can be helpful to organisations.  In the interim, organisations submitting data can use the quarterly published tables to reflect upon their speaking up journey.

July 9, 2020