GP appointed as national guardian to stand up for whistleblowers

London GP Dr Henrietta Hughes has been appointed by the CQC and NHS England as the new national guardian for speaking up freely and safely within the NHS.

Dr Hughes will play a key role in protecting whistleblowers who speak out and will work to help develop a more open culture in the NHS.

The London GP will take up the post from October, becoming the second person to hold it. Her predecessor Dame Eileen Sills resigned after just two months amid criticism of the decision to award her the job on a two-days-a-week basis.

Dr Hughes, a practising GP for over 20 years and medical director for NHS England’s north central and east London region since April 2013, will work four days a week in the national guardian role.

NHS whistleblowers

She was appointed by a panel consisting of representatives from the CQC, NHS England and NHS Improvement among others. Sir Robert Francis, whose review in February 2015 recommended that the role be created, was also on the panel.

In her new role, Dr Hughes will help ‘lead a cultural change within NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts, so that healthcare staff feel confident and supported to raise concerns about patient care at all times’, the CQC said.

She will also lead, advise and support the network of ‘freedom to speak up guardians’ which GP practices have been advised to appoint to foster a more open reporting culture.

Dr Hughes said her experience as a practising GP would help her ‘understand the challenges that lie ahead’ in the role.

‘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,’ she said.

Patient safety

‘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.

‘Together with my office, the growing network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in NHS trusts, our national partners, and anyone else who has an interest in supporting and protecting staff who wish to speak up, I look forward to driving forward this agenda of openness. ‘

CQC chief executive David Behan said: ‘I am very pleased that Henrietta has accepted the position of national guardian.

‘The role requires strong leadership, trust and a clear understanding of the NHS and the challenges its staff face in raising concerns. I am confident Henrietta will bring all of these qualities in abundance as the National Guardian and I look forward to working with her in this capacity.’

Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said: ‘The appointment of Dr Henrietta Hughes as national guardian is an important step in our ambition to create a more open and honest culture in the NHS.’

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