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Whistleblowing champion quits after two months in job

Dame Eileen Sills resigns from NHS national guardian role

A leading nurse has resigned from her role as the country’s champion for NHS whistleblowers after just two months in the post.

Dame Eileen Sills.  Picture credit: Neil O'Connor

Dame Eileen Sills was appointed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in January as the country’s first ever national guardian to help, advise and support whistleblowers across the NHS.

Dame Eileen, who quit on March 4, cited the difficulties of combining the role with her job as chief nurse at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

She said: 'It has been a very difficult decision to take, but after two months it is very clear that it is not possible to combine the role of the national guardian – and establishment of the office – with the increasing challenges NHS providers face, while doing justice to both roles.'

The post of national guardian was a key recommendation made last year by Sir Robert Francis in his Freedom to Speak Up review. Sir Robert had previously chaired the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry into failings in patient care at Stafford Hospital in the late 2000s. He found that patients could be put at risk of harm because NHS staff were not speaking out about mistakes or failings in care.

Dame Eileen’s role was to lead a network of individuals within NHS trusts, appointed as ‘local freedom to speak up guardians’, responsible for developing a culture of openness at trust level.

Sir Robert has offered non-executive support to the office of the national guardian until a new appointment is made.

He said: 'The office of the national guardian is a vital element in the drive to change the culture of the NHS to one which welcomes and supports staff who raise concerns.

'Separately from my role as a CQC board member I am happy to offer non-executive support for the office as it continues its work until a guardian is appointed.'

CQC chief executive David Behan said he was disappointed to receive Dame Eileen’s resignation, but respected ‘her honesty in making this difficult decision’.

He said: 'A new appointment process will begin immediately. The work of setting up the office of the national guardian will continue as planned, with a focus on supporting and working with freedom to speak up for guardians in NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts.'

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