Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

ROLE MODEL

Striving for positive change

  • Comment

In Dame Eileen Sills’ view, helping nurses to speak out is impossible with no understanding of frontline care

eileen sills

eileen sills

In front of Dame Eileen Sills is a paper Starbucks coffee cup. On it, the name “Kallie” is scrawled in black ink.

Noticing my stare, she says: “They never get my name right. I’ve given up telling them.”

But while the global coffee chain doesn’t know Eileen’s name, her fame in the nursing world is indisputable. She is chief nurse at one of the leading and largest London trusts, Guy’s and St Thomas’s, often quoted by the secretary of state for health – who clearly respects her influence over, and contribution to, nursing. And of course, she was named a dame in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list. Now, arguably, she’s about to become even more famous, as the Care Quality Commission appointed her as its NHS national whistleblowing guardian from April this year.

In this new role, Dame Eileen will oversee and advise a network of local whistleblowing guardians to be appointed in each trust. These people, much like Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trusts’s nurse whistleblower Helene Donnelly – who now works in a similar role at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership Trust – will encourage and support staff to speak up within their organisations.

“I don’t think you can sit in this role and not understand what it’s actually like to provide care on the front line”

She says her role will identify common themes, issues and challenges for both qualified and student nurses, and feed them into the system to help it make improvements for the future.

There has been some criticism of the fact that Dame Eileen intends to perform the role part time, but she bats that away.

“I don’t think you can sit in this role and not understand what it’s actually like to provide care on the front line – how difficult it is to be able to speak up, how difficult it is in the environment they work in.

“You can lose your identity very quickly when you become disconnected from the front line and that matters to me. So that’s the reason I applied for the post – on the basis of wanting to do two roles,” she says.

She’s also clear that she must fulfil the demands of both roles, and won’t be happy unless she can do that.

Dame Eileen already has some experience working part time with a regulator. Until she took on this role, she was personal adviser to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s chief executive for just over six months.

“I have not forgotten what it was like to work at Whipp’s Cross and that grounds me.”

Dame Eileen hopes having a nurse in her new role will encourage clinicians to engage with her because she knows “how difficult it sometimes is to provide care”.

Some may be concerned that she works at a trust that isn’t financially challenged and, therefore, may not appreciate the difficulties of working in troubled organisations. But Dame Eileen refutes that.

“I have not forgotten what it was like to work at Whipp’s Cross [where she was director of nursing and chief executive before joining Guy’s] and that grounds me.”

 “Sometimes in a multidisciplinary setting it’s more difficult for a nurse to have the confidence to speak up – especially if surrounded by very clear authoritative individuals in that team.”

She also has personal experience of being a nurse with concerns. “In one post I had to leave because I didn’t thrive in that culture, and I struggled to get my voice heard – so I have had some personal experience about how it feels to be somewhere where you don’t fit and, in the end, the best thing to do is to walk away.

 “Sometimes in a multidisciplinary setting it’s more difficult for a nurse to have the confidence to speak up – especially if surrounded by very clear authoritative individuals in that team.”

While the staff at Starbucks don’t know how to spell “Eileen”, she is undoubtedly getting to influence more of the profession’s future nationally than she has ever done before.

“I have been at Guy’s and St Thomas’s for 11 years. I could stay embedded and focused internally but this new role allows me to grow – it gives me a chance to see the world from a different perspective and the chance to influence more.

“I am a different person to the one I was a year ago when I started to work for the NMC. I look at my role in a different way. I look more outwards than continually inwards. This role will see that develop even further.”

Jenni Middleton

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.