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Speaking up during the COVID-19 pandemic: Nurses’ experiences of organisational disregard and silence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Ruth Abrams, Anna Conolly, Emma Rowland, Ruth Harris, Bridie Kent, Daniel Kelly, Keith Couper, Jill Maben

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Early online date16 Jan 2023
Accepted/In press24 Nov 2022
E-pub ahead of print16 Jan 2023


King's Authors


Aim: To critically examine nurses experiences of speaking up during COVID-19 and the consequences of doing so.
Design: Longitudinal qualitative study
Methods: Participants were purposively sampled to represent differing geographical locations, specialities, settings and redeployment experiences. They were interviewed (remotely) between July 2020 and April 2022 using a semi-structured interview topic guide.
Results: Three key themes emerged inductively from our analysis including: (1) Under threat: The ability to speak up or not; (2) Risk tolerance and avoidance: Consequences of speaking up; and (3) Deafness and hostility: Responses to speaking up. Nurses reported that their attempts to speak up typically focused on PPE, patient safety and redeployment. Findings indicate that when NHS Trusts and community services initiated their pandemic response policies, nurses’ opportunities to speak up were frequently thwarted.
Conclusion: Accounts presented in this paper include nurses’ feeling a sense of futility or of suffering in silence in relation to speaking up. Nurses also fear the consequences of speaking up. Those who did speak up encountered a ‘deaf’ or hostile response, leaving nurses feeling disregarded by their organisation. This points to missed opportunities to learn from those on the frontline.
Impact: Speaking up interventions need to focus on enhancing the skills to both speak up, and respond appropriately, particularly when power, hierarchy, fear and threat might be concerned.
Patient or Public Contribution. Nurses working clinically during Covid-19 were involved in the development of this study. Participants were also involved in the development of our interview topic guide and comments obtained from the initial (anonymised survey) helped to shape the study design.

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