Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update, Vaccine Information and Helpful Resources Find out more

Freedom to Speak Up Month – My Speak Up Heroes

Julie Garbett

By Julie Garbett, Cygnet Freedom to Speak Up Guardian

Since we‘re in the middle of Speak Up Month 2020, a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of speaking up, I’d like to celebrate all those people who have spoken up to help bring about positive change.

There are so many people in history and in the public eye who provide inspiration. Women’s rights activists like Emmeline Pankhurst, Billie Jean King and Katherine Johnson. Then there are fantastic young activists like Greta Thunberg and Liam Hackett, who, at aged 19, founded a global anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label. What ties them together is that they all saw something they felt was wrong and did something about it.

When it comes to Health and Social care, speaking up can help protect patient safety and the quality of care and promote learning and improvement. My role as Cygnet’s Freedom to Speak Up guardian is to make sure that people feel supported in speaking up and that across Cygnet there is a positive culture of speaking up where it becomes the norm to raise concerns and questions

It would great to hear from staff about the people they think should be recognised as a FTSU hero. Tell me who would be your Speak Up Hero by dropping me a note at [email protected], and hopefully we will use them in a second blog.

To get the ball rolling, here are some of my Speak Up heroes:

Marcus Rashford

“It’s more a generational thing and this generation, we are not afraid to stand up and be counted which is a positive thing.”Marcus Rashford

It was great to see Marcus Rashford being honoured with an MBE last weekend for services to vulnerable children in the UK. Best known as the Manchester United and England forward, this 22-year-old footballer spoke up during the COVID-19 pandemic when he realised that many children were at risk of going hungry.

He had already teamed up with the charity FareShare to deliver meals to people in the Greater Manchester area that no longer had access to the free school meals. The experience led him to write an open letter to government calling on them to end child poverty.

This is what he said: “This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”

It worked. A day later, the government announced a change in policy regarding the extension of the food voucher scheme to give meals for children during the Summer holidays, and his campaign was credited as having a major turning point in the government talks.

Helene Donnelly

“Of course, I was aware that I had a professional duty to speak up as a registered nurse, but it was much more than that. It was a moral duty and it was my moral code that was telling me you can’t let patients suffer.”Helene Donnelly

Helen Donnelly is a former A&E nurse who helped lead the fight against shocking failings at Stafford Hospital and was instrumental in Freedom to Speak Up becoming a national initiative. She was nurse at Mid Staffs who between 2004-2008 raised over 50 concerns about patient treatment, including that A&E was short staffed and didn’t have vital equipment or standards of care. Helene also reported that staff were fearful of raising concerns, in particular because a culture had developed that meant staff were bullied and belittled.

After becoming a key witness in the Mid-Staffordshire public enquiry, she called for change in the NHS, and urged other people worried about patient care to come forward. “All members of staff working in the NHS and social care have a duty to speak out if they see things that are not right, and we must create a culture where they can do that and feel safe,” she said.

Helen is now an Ambassador for Cultural Change at an NHS Trust supporting other staff to speak up and be heard. In 2014, she was awarded an OBE for her amazing work and dedication in bringing about change and speaking up for what was right. When she accepted her OBE, Helene said: “For me I really think this marks a turning point and I hope I will be the first of many others who come forward to speak out.” Nurses and support staff working in mental health do a tremendous job that should be recognised and rewarded. But when things go wrong, Helene is an inspiration to others to come forward,

Carrie Fisher

“One of the things that baffles me … is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls.”Helene Donnelly

Although she’s best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher was also a strong advocate for mental health. I put her in my list because she spoke up about addiction and mental illness long before it became the norm for celebrities to speak up about their health struggles. Few other actors at the time would have dared risk doing so out of fear that it could harm their reputation and career. She did it anyway.

She once said: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.”

For a while, Carrie Fisher ran an agony column for the Guardian, in which she answered letters from other people with bipolar disorder. She told one of them: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”

I believe Carrie Fisher’s bravery gave courage to others to come forward.

About Speak Up Month. Led by the National Guardian’s Office, Speak Up Month aims to increase NHS organisations’ commitment to fostering a strong speaking up culture and make Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’s more visible. You can read more about this month’s campaign here –

Share this page