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Senior London nurse becomes first national ‘whistleblowing guardian’

  • 31 Comments

The Care Quality Commission has appointed one of the country’s most senior nursing directors as its first national guardian for the freedom to speak up within the NHS.

Dame Eileen Sills, chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, has been appointed to the role, which has been created as part of the government’s response to the review on raising concerns in the health service by Sir Robert Francis.

“I fully appreciate that this is a very big and challenging role”

Eileen Sills

Dame Eileen will be charged with helping lead a “cultural change”, initially within NHS trusts and foundation trusts, so that healthcare staff “always feel confident and supported to raise concerns about patient care”, said the CQC.

Among her responsibilities, she will “lead, advise and support” a network of local freedom to speak up guardians who will be responsible for developing a culture of openness at trust level.

She will also be required to share good practice, report on national or common themes and identify any barriers that are preventing the NHS from having a “truly safe and open culture”.

The CQC said Dame Eileen would be “completely independent, highly visible, and will speak freely and honestly about where changes are needed” among trusts.

While she will work in partnership with national regulators and NHS England, she will also take an “independent stand to report on any matters of concern affecting these bodies when required”, said the CQC.

Her immediate priorities will be to respond to the recently closed consultation on the role of the national guardian and establishing the office, which due to become operational on 1 April.

“I am very pleased that such an eminently well qualified healthcare professional has agreed to take up this post”

Robert Francis

Dame Eileen will remain in her post at Guy’s and St Thomas’ but has stepped down from her role as the trust’s executive lead for speaking up safely to avoid any conflicts of interest.

In addition, she has also stepped down as senior nurse advisor for the Nursing and Midwifery Council and chair of the Shelford Nursing Group of Chief Nurses, which represents the country’s 10 leading teaching hospitals.

The need for an independent national guardian for the NHS was highlighted by Sir Robert Francis in his Freedom to Speak Up report, which was published in February 2015.

Eileen Sills

Eileen Sills

Eileen Sills

His review on whistleblowing found that vital information about mistakes and concerns was not being raised by NHS staff routinely.

It concluded that reporting systems were either insufficient or not used or healthcare professionals did not feel able to speak up.

The creation of the national guardian was one of the key recommendations from the review, with plans to take the idea forward confirmed by the health secretary last July.

Commenting on the appointment of Dame Eileen, Sir Robert said: “I am very pleased that such an eminently well qualified healthcare professional has agreed to take up this post.

“The task of creating the post and supporting the freedom of NHS staff to speak up will be challenging but I am confident Dame Eileen is the right person for this role,” he said.

CQC chief executive David Behan added: “Dame Eileen is a leader of exceptional quality and so I am delighted that she will be the first national guardian for the NHS.”

Robert Francis

Robert Francis

Robert Francis

Dame Eileen herself said she understood “what it is like to provide care on the frontline” and “how difficult it is for staff always to have the confidence and courage to speak out”.

“In this role therefore, I will take my current experience, working with individuals and organisations to learn the lessons from reviews and investigations to date,” she said.

She added: “I fully appreciate that this is a very big and challenging role, but with the support of the staff who work in the NHS, I have no doubt that we can make the changes together that are needed to deliver a new culture of transparency and openness.”

Dame Eileen has been chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ since 2005. She was awarded a CBE in 2003 for services to nursing and made a dame in the 2015 New Year honours list.

  • 31 Comments

Readers' comments (31)

  • Michael Stone: unfortunately we live in an environment that persecutes health care professionals who speak up and so in reference to the person who wrote the comment you refer to does makes perfect sense. If you want to believe in Dame Eileen fine, but take the criticism, including your polarised notions of what is negative. Youre views bore me.

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS12 JANUARY, 2016 2:47 PM

    I have no personal knowledge about Dame Eileen, so I can't have any 'belief' [or 'disbelief'] in her: I can have opinions about this 'guardianship' system, having worked through and responded to the consultation about the system.

    The NHS also tends to 'persecute' relatives, and sometimes patients who 'speak up' - it isn't an issue that only affects HCPs.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on 'including your polarised notions of what is negative' as it baffled me - but I predict that you will not explain exactly what you meant by that.

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  • Michael Stone: the use of 'if you' is passive so stop assuming. Stop uneccesarily attempting to break down others views and just accept criticism. What has it got to do with personal belief - thats sounds like you want to direct this conversation? - nice try if so but it won't work.

    So what you've worked with it and yes opinions exist whether you've worked through + consultation or not and nobody said otherwise. And consultation doesn't equate democratic forum. You're approach wont work with me - nobody hasn't said it doesnt persecute others so stop assuming again. If you wanna be baffled that's up to you but I predict what you really want is to pull apart views again if I reply - yawn. We all know there are those in power also use patients as a tool to manipulate HCP's, make kudos and at heart are a part of the issue. As far as Im concerned it is a government smoke screen. Anyway nice chatting I almost sent myelf to sleep.



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  • michael stone

    Re the previous - weird - comment.

    My use of 'you' was obvious - I was addressing a question, to someone who had anonymously commented on an earlier post of mine: nothing complicated that unless people post under a name or a username, the only option is to use 'you' !

    Your comment about my use of 'you', is, by contrast, very strange indeed !

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  • Yawn

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  • 14 JANUARY, 2016 12:46 PM - You seem tired, perhaps you need a rest.

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  • Lol MS lost that discussion, he couldn't counter the rest of the conversation so he mentioned the use of a word instead.

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS 15 JANUARY, 2016 5:28 PM

    Did you not read the first two comments to this article - they were 'personal' attacks on Dame Eileen, surely ?

    ANONYMOUS 7 JANUARY, 2016 1:04 PM

    She is NMC therefore not to be trusted

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    ANONYMOUS 7 JANUARY, 2016 2:27 PM

    I agree with the above comment, people like that is only interested in their own ambitions and not in what that currently happening on the ground. Board room, fame, status and probably do not remember what a patient looks like!

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  • The problem all nurses I know have lost confidence in their regulator. And when you read of cases involving whiteblowers such as Suddock who from my interpretation win their case. And I'm sure there are others it makes you realise the view that The NMC is too overpowering to a point it is potentially muddying waters and too dependent on subjectivity. On that alone we should have a vote on Jackie Smith (in respect of her function) standing down and the NMC to be investigated . So the question is will Eileen do it and perhaps that is the connection that she wouldn't but also her function stops her from. I think what you need to understand Michael is the sentiments to why people say what they do, I would suggest it denotes that the establishment is too without bias in this respect. Feelings are running high in environments of low resource and so maybe a two way compassion is better for all, but there comes a point that when the regulator or government poses a potential risk it needs investigating. The NMC is not getting it right in these circumstances and so we need to get everything else right before many may trust Eileen.

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS17 JANUARY, 2016 5:49 PM

    I have no great faith in the NMC. The one time I engaged with the NMC, I was deeply unimpressed by the interaction (logic and common sense disappeared completely, being replaced by 'process' when the situation was so unusual, that the process simply did not fit. Too complicated to explain briefly here). So I can see why nurses are very suspicious of the NMC - mind you, I consider the 'guidance' for nurses to be much more 'of a minefield' than the guidance for doctors, which would be problematic even if the NMC were 'better'.

    I also think that the Chief Nurse of a Trust, should not be the National Guardian, as it does look like a bit of a conflict of interests (within her own trust). However, many 'national NHS leads' for want of a better term, are these days clinicians who work part-time and do the 'national role' part-time as well. You can argue, that this keeps the people doing the 'national role' in touch with working clinicians, although in this case the 'guardians' (both the national and local ones) need to be 'in touch with ward level', and I don't know how much being the Head Nurse of a trust helps (or hinders) with that.

    However, I will defend the NMC against one accusation I've seen thrown at it on NT. The NMC is there to protect the PUBLIC - it isn't there to protect nurses. I am aware that some people believe that the GMC 'appears to protect doctors' despite its role also being to protect the public, and that the NMC seems to be less protective of nurses: which could well be true, as a belief.

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