Dame Eileen Sills has resigned as the National Guardian for Speaking up Safely within the NHS after a few weeks of being appointed to the role.
In an embarrassing development for the both the CQC and the government, she has put her work at her hospital ahead of the new whistleblowing role.
Dame Eileen has been Chief Nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust since 2005, was awarded a CBE in 2003 for services to nursing and a DBE in January 2015.
The need for an independent National Guardian for the NHS was highlighted in Sir Robert Francis’s Freedom to Speak Up review in February 2015, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal, which found that patients could be put at risk of harm because vital information about mistakes and concerns was not being raised by NHS staff routinely.
The creation of the National Guardian was one of the key recommendations from the review – an arrangement which the Secretary of State for Health confirmed last July.
The review’s author Francis has offered non-executive support to the Office of the National Guardian until a new appointment is made.
Of stepping down, Sills 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.
“My commitment to our patients and staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust means that I have to step down from the National Guardian role.”
David Behan, Chief Executive of CQC, said: “I was disappointed to receive Dame Eileen’s resignation but I respect her honesty in making this difficult decision. 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 guardians in NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts.”
Francis 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.”
Her appointment was already mired in controversy after it became apparent she was only going to perform the role two days a week.
The National Guardian will lead, advise and support a network of individuals within NHS trusts, appointed as ‘local freedom to speak up guardians’, who will be responsible for developing a culture of openness at trust level.
The role will also share good practice, report on national or common themes and identify any barriers that are preventing the NHS from having a truly safe and open culture.
The role is intended to be independent, highly visible, and able to speak freely and honestly about where changes are needed among NHS trusts and foundation trusts.
Unfortunately for the CQC, Sills departure has been as equally visible.