THE new “national guardian” whose role was to encourage NHS staff in England to raise concerns has resigned just weeks before she was due to take up the post.
Dame Eileen Sills said she made the “difficult” decision after realising she could not meet the demands of the new two-days-a-week job while continuing to work as chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
She accepted the job in January and began working on a report looking at how the national guardian would operate, before being scheduled to take up the post in April.
The role – based at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – was created following Sir Robert Francis’ Freedom to Speak Up review into NHS whistleblowing which was published in February 2015. Sir Robert has offered “non-executive support to the Office of the National Guardian” until a replacement is found.
In a statement, Dame Eileen 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."
CQC chief executive David Behan said he was “disappointed” to receive Dame Ellen’s resignation, but that he “respected her honesty”.
He said the process to find a new candidate would begin immediately and emphasised that plans to set up the Office of the National Guardian would continue as planned.
There have been calls from some within the healthcare profession for the position of national guardian to be made full time.
A CQC spokesman who spoke to the Daily Mail appeared not to rule out this option, saying: “The role will be advertised again as either full time or part time on a case-by-case basis to allow for flexibility. The main focus is securing the right candidate for the job.”