An initiative which encourages hospital workers to ‘speak up’ about bad practice has triggered 24 complaint cases in the past 12 months at the South Tees trust.

Of those 16 referred to bullying or harassment and eight concerned patient safety and quality of care.

In addition three Covid-19 specific complaints were received under the ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ agenda, which forms part of the NHS standard contract for hospital trusts and aims to promote an open and transparent culture.

The Covid-related concerns involved staff from a Covid area mixing with staff from a non-Coivd environment; trust policy on visiting not being adhered to and an allegation that appropriate social distancing was not being facilitated in an office area.

The first two complaints had been addressed, while the third was expected to be resolved soon, a report to the board of directors at the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said.

The report by Helen Smithies, assistant director of nursing (safeguarding), suggested that despite progress being made to date there was still much work to be done.

The trust had employed two ‘guardians’ to respond to any concerns raised, work they carried out in addition to their existing substantive roles, but it acknowledged that demand was now outstripping the capacity to deal with cases as more employees became aware of the initiative.

The report said: “Work is required to strengthen this model and develop a meaningful and accessible culture for all which supports ‘speaking up’.”

It added: “It is clear that…while good progress has been made to date within current resources and structures, further progress around the less tangible elements of culture, thinking and habitual practice poses a real challenge.”

Discussions have now started at the trust about an alternative model for Freedom to Speak Up.

This will include re-distribution of funding in order to have dedicated guardians with dedicated time to undertake the roles and a revised training plan to ensure they carry out investigations quicker and optimise any learning.

A South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said: “The national Freedom to Speak Up programme is an important part of making sure NHS organisations always have their ears pinned back and are listening for anything that gets in the way of providing good care.

“Over the last six months the trust has undergone a number of significant changes.

“We’re now empowering our doctors and nurses to take decisions about how we manage our resources and deliver care across our hospitals and services.

“There is a lot of work still to do, but by enabling clinicians to come together to shape and deliver the care they want for their patients, we’ve already come a long way in a short time.”