Family Liaison Officers – the future of Family Support after NHS Incidents?

Like so many organisations, over the last year we’ve had to adjust to running on-line webinars, instead of face-to-face training.  We learned a lot from our face-to-face training and now we’re using that knowledge in our webinars.  In our old style training we travelled all over England, running all day training sessions for up to 150 heath care staff members (very often NHS Trusts) from all levels, from CEO and Governors to staff who worked in A&E, Maternity and Wards.  With staff who worked in Mental Health, staff who worked with elderly people, with children, with people with Learning Disabilities and just about everything else in between.  It was great to meet these people, work with them and listen to them.

One of the most common themes that used to come up in our training was the problems they were having with investigations.  We found that whether we were in the Wirral, in Southampton, in Norwich or in London, the same problems came up time, and time, and time again. 

  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of training.
  • Lack of support.
  • Fear of getting it wrong with patients and families and making things worse.
  • Fear of making a mistake/saying the wrong thing, fear of saying anything.
  • Fear of getting in trouble with management and issues around blame.

Over the 6 years of training, as we saw this pattern of concerns emerging across the NHS, we started to think more and more about what the solution might be.  Of course, there’s no “quick fix” solution, no “one size fits all” and there never will be.  But we started to see that a good beginning would be the increased use of Family Liaison Officers. 

It may feel now as if the police have been using FLOs forever, but in fact they only started to be used by the police in 2000, following the Macpherson Report (after Stephen Lawrence’s murder and investigation).  Already having police Family Liaison Officers has made such a difference for so many families.  So we began firstly to include a highly experienced police FLO as one of our training presenters, sharing how her job was done, the impact it had on families and the impact it had on investigations.  Then, from 2017, we also began to include a presentation from one of the first NHS FLO teams (The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trusts) who shared information and guidance about the way their was set up and how they worked with patients and families.  Little by little, we began to see that what had once been described to us in a training day as “a very nice, but an impossible dream”, was in fact, become reality for more and more NHS Trusts.

Yet the role of an NHS FLO is still very much in its infancy.  You can count the number of Trusts who include this role, but you can also see that almost every month, more and more Trusts are talking about how this role can be developed for them.  It may be new, but it’s certainly growing – and growing fast.

As it’s a new role and the content isn’t standardized, many Trusts create an FLO role which seems to meet their needs, but more organisations are thinking about how a Family Liaison role would work for them, it’s becoming apparent that more thought and more guidance is needed to develop the role to best meet the needs of patients, families and staff.  So we have developed a new webinar, which is all about the FLO role.  We chose presenters who could share insight and experience.  Michelle Barber has not only been a Family Liaison Officer in the NHS for some time, but she is one of the people who helped to set up and develop the Family Liaison Officers Forum, which supports and advises NHS FLOs.  Our other presenter, Louise Pye is the Head of Family Engagement for the HSIB but before that, for many years Louise was a police FLO and she brings an understanding of that work to her presentation.

It may be that Family Liaison Officers are the future of family support after NHS incidents, so why not join our FLO webinar on 30 June and find out?  It’s not a magic bullet to take away all the problems, but it could be an effective new way of addressing continuing issues which allow NHS staff more time, training and confidence to work with families and surely that is only going to be a good thing?

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