A WHISTLEBLOWING champion appointed to take on staff concerns in a bid to boost patient safety is set to mark a year in the new role.

The trust that runs Barrow's Furness General Hospital was one of the first in the country to create the post of freedom to speak up guardian last year.

So far, Barrow-based radiographer Heather Bruce, the trust's whistleblowing expert, has been contacted by 50 members of staff highlighting issues they believe could jeopardise patient safety if not investigated.

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Mrs Bruce has dealt with each and every report to make sure there are no risks to patients and any improvements required are introduced as quickly as possible.

Mrs Bruce said: "I am always prepared to see anyone who has a concern - medical staff, support staff, volunteers.

"This is because in theory anyone could see something they think should be investigated or looked at with a fresh pair of eyes."

The need to have a freedom to speak up guardian within every trust in the country was recommended by government health advisor Sir Robert Francis, the man who investigated the Mid-Staffs scandal, in his national Freedom to Speak Up Review.

It aims to encourage more staff to come forward and report incidents without fear that doing so could damage their careers or leave them vulnerable to bullying from other colleagues.

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The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust was quick to respond to the call with the newly created post advertised to staff within weeks.

Mrs Bruce applied and was appointed in August last year.

Now, she regularly visits all three hospitals run by the trust where staff often take the opportunity to approach her or attend pre-arranged meetings.

And with direct access to UHMBT's chief executive, Jackie Daniel, as well as members of the senior leadership team, Mrs Bruce can escalate issues that may be putting patients at risk immediately.

Mrs Bruce said: "People do stop me in the corridor now.

"The aim of this post is to encourage people to speak up - that's what is best for the patients.

"People can report things anonymously if they wish but this is very rare.

"People are happy to talk now and it means I can then let them know what follow up there has been."

Some hospital trusts across the UK are still in the process of appointing a freedom to speak up guardian - and Mrs Bruce often receives calls from hospital staff in other areas who have recently taken on the role.

She is able to offer advice and expertise as one of the UK's whistleblowing pathfinders.

"In the aviation industry things are reported at a very early stage so they can be addressed before they cause a safety issue.

"That's what this role is about - encouraging people to report things they are concerned about early on. It benefits everyone, but particularly the patient."