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CQC hires new national whistleblowing ‘guardian’

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The Care Quality Commission has appointed a new whistleblowing guardian, after the first recruit resigned within two months in post.

The CQC announced today that it had appointed Henrietta Hughes for the role, whose formal title is National Guardian for Speaking Up Freely and Safely.

“I understand the challenges that lie ahead”

Henrietta Hughes

Dr Hughes is a practising GP and the medical director for NHS England’s North Central and East London area team.

She is the second appointee to the position, and is significantly less well known than her predecessor, Dame Eileen Sills, the first person to hold the new role who resigned after less than two months.

Dame Eileen tried to combine the role with her post as chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust. After she quit in March she said she had realised this was “not possible”.

Dr Hughes is expected to take up the position in October, working four days a week and on a salary of £105,040.

Her role will involve leading and advising on a network of local “freedom to speak up guardians”.

Robert Francis

Robert Francis

Robert Francis

The national guardian role was created following an independent review by Sir Robert Francis, which looked at whistleblowing in the NHS. The findings from the Freedom to Speak Up review were published in February 2015.

Sir Robert, now a CQC board member, said: “No service can be effective without listening to and acting on the concerns raised by its staff, let alone one which employs such skilled and dedicated people as the NHS. They are the lifeblood of the service, and the lifeline for their patients.

“It is important that every part of the NHS develops a culture in which it is entirely normal to raise issues about safety, quality and effectiveness of the service, for those issues to be addressed and for those who raise them to be protected from any adverse consequences,” he said.

“I believe that the national guardian, her office and the network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians all have an invaluable role to play in supporting these changes,” he added.

“The experience she brings to this role will be key”

Jane Cummings

Speaking on her appointment, Dr Hughes said: “I am very excited to be appointed as the national guardian and recognise that supporting and protecting staff across the NHS who wish to speak up is a huge and tremendously important responsibility.

“It requires a great deal of courage, honesty, and selflessness to ‘blow the whistle’. People should never feel that they are at risk of punishment when advocating better and safer care for patients.

“As a practising GP and with my experience in the NHS, both on the frontline and at leadership levels, I understand the challenges that lie ahead.

“I want staff to always feel listened to regardless of where they work within the NHS, so that we can see real improvements in patient safety and staff experience. This is a real opportunity to work towards making that a reality.”

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Ruth May

Ruth May, executive director of nursing at the new regulator NHS Improvement, said: “I would like to welcome Dr Henrietta Hughes as the new National Guardian.

“Her extensive clinical experience and expertise means she has the know-how to encourage the growth of the Freedom to Speak up guardian’s network,” she said. “Alongside the guardians, I am sure she will provide the leadership to ensure that a culture of openness within NHS trusts flourishes.

“Whistleblowers can play a crucial role in making sure that the NHS delivers the highest standard of care to patients day in, day out,” she said. ”If we all continue to do our part to safeguard the freedom to speak out, NHS staff will feel more confident to share vital information that can prevent the risks of harm to patients.

“I look forward to working closely with Dr Hughes, and our partners, to help NHS staff feel free and safe to speak out,” she added.

Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer of NHS England, said: “I welcome the appointment of Dr Henrietta Hughes as the new national guardian and look forward to working with her.

“The experience she brings to this role will be key in delivering an open and transparent health service,” she said. “Providing all staff with the confidence and means to speak up is an essential part of providing high quality care to all.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I have little faith in the National Guardian office. It started off life very poorly designed, and now CQC et al have gone a bit vague about what the National Guardian will actually do.

    Today, I sent this letter to the new National Guardian:

    "To Dr Henrietta Hughes National Guardian designate 7 July 2016

    Dear Dr Hughes,

    Role and powers of the National Guardian for Freedom to Speak up

    Congratulations on your appointment to the post of National Guardian.

    I am an NHS whistleblower – formerly a consultant psychiatrist - and I have been waiting for news of how the National Guardian’s office will develop.

    I wonder if you can help me by clarifying your understanding of the extent of the National Guardian’s powers and role?

    There appeared to be an implied change in the National Guardian’s role and powers from differences in the position specification issued for the appointment of Eileen Sills, and that issued for the latest appointment process. The following phrases were not present in the most recent National Guardian position specification:

    · “…this would not be a system of case management”

    · “…would not involve investigation”

    · “…would not be a means of appeal”

    · “Where the National Guardian decides to review a case…they will not consider the content of concerns, or investigations or the outcome of these”

    Is it possible to say therefore if the National Guardian’s office will operate a case management system, will investigate cases, will offer an appeal mechanism against local employers’ decisions and will examine the contents of whistleblowers concerns and the appropriateness of local investigation findings about staff concerns?



    My understanding of information from the CQC is that the National Guardian will be able to substantially influence the office’s scope and role. I would be grateful to hear if this will now be the case, and what your initial thoughts are on developing the office.

    Many thanks,

    Dr Minh Alexander"

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  • michael stone

    I like the title - National Guardian for Speaking Up Freely and Safely.

    Now, she needs to put that title into practice.

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