My FLO experience

by Michelle Covarrubias-Barber

My journey with the NHS started well over 30 years ago. In that time I have seen an awful lot of change take place; some of it has not yielded the expected benefits, but most of it has been good.

Having worked in a variety of NHS organisations, including Acute General Hospitals, Tertiary Care Specialist Trusts, Strategic Health Authorities, Commissioning Organisations, Mental Health and Community Services there has always been one thing that has kept me going, even during those times when I felt that I had no more energy to continue. That has been the belief that more needs to be done so that patients, service users and their families are more closely involved with and feel able to contribute to the decisions clinicians and other professionals make about the care of their loved ones.

Although it is fair to say that changes in this area have been very slow in materialising, a lot has been achieved and we can now find a large number of clinicians, service managers and allied health professionals who not only welcome, but actively encourage a partnership with families of the service users they support.

It is good to see the days when Trusts and their staff discouraged close contact and free communication with families out of fear that their service or their decisions might be found wanting, or the possibility of legal action, start to change.

Conversely, families and service users need to see that their comments and opinions are at least heard and considered, so that they gather the confidence to communicate with professionals in a levelled playing field.

However, there is still a lot that needs to happen so that the partnership between families and health care professionals is truly effective.

The need for this change to happen and gather momentum was never more apparent to me than when I worked as a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) in a local Mental Health and Community Trust.

During this time, I was able to witness the difference that giving families some support and guidance navigating the maze that NHS structure and it’s policies and procedures can be, makes to their ability to create a successful team with those providing care or support to their loved ones, that brings about improvement in the patient’s condition.

Unfortunately, I have also witnessed the devastating results to families when this support is unavailable.

It is the role of the FLO to provide this support, create, manage and foster relationships, engender trust; facilitate communication and create links between any other professionals whose input is required and the families concerned facilitate communication and create links between any other professionals whose input is required and the families concerned.

Despite the importance of this role, there is no accredited training/guidance, codes of conduct, a set of outcomes to achieve, or a way to measure the effectiveness of FLO involvement which provide guidance to the members of staff who are fulfilling this important role within the NHS to date.

None the less, I am very glad to see that examples of successful partnerships between families and professionals which bring about improvements to the care that is provided to vulnerable individuals do exist.

I look forward to a time when more professional support is offered to FLOs so that these examples become the norm.

This blog has been written for Making Families Count by Michelle Covarrubias-Barber who is presenting at our webinar on 18 May 2022 “Family Liaison Officers – A Key Part of Investigations?”.

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