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 were identified 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 article 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 organization. This points to missed opportunities to learn from those on the front line. 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 survey helped to shape the study design.



Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Advanced Nursing



Embargo Period


Organisational Unit

School of Nursing and Midwifery