CQC whistleblowing champion could extend role to primary care

A 'national guardian' appointed by the CQC to promote a safer and more supportive culture for NHS whistleblowers to raise concerns in hospitals could eventually extend her role to primary care.

CQC inspection: watchdog has appointed a whistleblowing guardian
CQC inspection: watchdog has appointed a whistleblowing guardian

The CQC has appointed Dame Eileen Sills as the first independent national guardian, and the watchdog said her role will ‘help to lead a cultural change’ within NHS trusts and foundation trusts.

Dame Eileen will aim to ensure that healthcare staff ‘always feel confident and supported’ to raise concerns about patient care.

The role will be independent, but will work in partnership with the CQC, NHS England and NHS Improvement to reinforce good practice. This will allow the national guardian to speak ‘freely and honestly’ about where changes are needed in the NHS. She will lead and be supported by a network of local 'freedom to speak up guardians'.

A CQC spokeswoman confirmed that the national guardian’s role in providing leadership and good practice guidance could also apply to primary care ‘in time’.

The need for a national guardian was a key recommendation in Sir Robert Francis’ ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ review released in February 2015, which found that patients were potentially being put at risk because vital information about mistakes and concerns were not being raised by NHS staff routinely.

The review found that reporting systems were either insufficient or not used because health professionals did not feel able to speak up.

Whistleblowing support

Dame Eileen has been chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust since 2005 – a role she will retain – and a nurse for over 30 years. She was awarded her DBE for services to nursing last year.

Upon her appointment, she said: ‘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.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Since the events at Mid Staffs there have been significant changes to create a more open and honest culture in the NHS.

‘Dame Eileen has dedicated her career to improving the quality of care patients receive and I am confident as the national guardian she will inspire the NHS to go even further in improving how staff can raise concerns without fear or discrimination.’

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

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