CQC appoints first National Guardian for the freedom to speak up in the NHS

Published: 7 January 2016 Page last updated: 12 May 2022

We have announced today the appointment of Dame Eileen Sills, the Chief Nurse at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, as the first National Guardian for speaking up safely in the NHS.

As the National Guardian for the freedom to speak up, Dame Eileen will help to lead a cultural change, initially within NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts, so that healthcare staff always feel confident and supported to raise concerns about patient care.

Dame Eileen has been Chief Nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust since 2005. She has been a registered nurse for over 30 years, during which time she has held a number of general management and senior nursing leadership posts. Dame Eileen 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, 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.

As part of her role, Dame Eileen 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. She 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.

As the National Guardian, Dame Eileen will be completely independent, highly visible, and will speak freely and honestly about where changes are needed among NHS trusts and foundation trusts. While she will work in partnership with CQC, NHS England and NHS Improvement to reinforce good practice, she will also take an independent stand to report on any matters of concern affecting these bodies where required.

Commenting on Dame Eileen’s appointment, David Behan, Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission, 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.

"We know that healthcare professionals are committed to delivering good care, day in and day out and that many organisations respond to any concerns they may have openly and transparently as a normal part of working. This results in better and safer care for patients.

"As the National Guardian, Dame Eileen will strive to ensure that this is common practice right across the NHS. By working with the local ambassadors within NHS trusts she will contribute to the change in culture that is needed."