Implementation of ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardians’ in NHS acute and mental health trusts in England: The FTSUG mixed-methods study

Aled Jones*, Jill Maben, Mary Adams, Russell Mannion, Carys Banks, Joanne Blake, Kathleen Job, Daniel Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The introduction of ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardians’ into every NHS trust in England was intended to support workers and trusts to better raise, respond to and learn from speaking-up concerns. However, only broad guidance was provided on how to implement the role. As a result, there is the potential for important local differences to emerge as the role is implemented across England. Objectives: The overall aim of this study was to better understand the implementation of Guardians in acute trusts and mental health trusts. Design: The Freedom to Speak Up Guardian role was conceptualised as a complex intervention consisting of several interacting and interlocking components spanning the macro level (national organisations), the meso level (individual trusts) and the micro level (employees, teams and wards/units). A mixed-methods study was designed, which consisted of three work packages: (1) a systematic narrative review of the international literature regarding interventions promoting ‘speaking up’ by health-care employees; (2) semistructured telephone interviews with Guardians working in acute hospital trusts and mental health trusts; and (3) qualitative case studies of Freedom to Speak Up Guardian implementation, consisting of observations and interviews undertaken in four acute trusts and two mental health trusts. Interviews were also undertaken with national stakeholders. Setting: Acute trusts and mental health NHS trusts in England. Participants: Work package 2: Freedom to Speak Up Guardians (n = 87) were interviewed.Work package 3: 116 interviews with key stakeholders involved in pre-implementation and early implementation decision-making, workers who had spoken up to the Guardian, and national stakeholders. Results: Wide variability was identified in how the Guardian role had been implemented, resourced and deployed by NHS trusts. ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’ is best considered an umbrella term, and multiple versions of the role exist simultaneously across England. Any comparisons of Guardians’ effectiveness are likely to be possible or meaningful only when this variability is properly accounted for. Many Freedom to Speak Up Guardians identified how a lack of available resources, especially time scarcity, negatively and significantly affected their ability to effectively respond to concerns; their opportunities to collect, analyse and learn from speaking-up data; and, more generally, the extent to which they developed their role and speak-up culture.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth and Social Care Delivery Research
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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