Dr Henrietta Hughes has been appointed as the new National Guardian for speaking up freely and safely within the NHS.
Hughes was appointed by a panel of representatives from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Patients Association.
Also on the panel was Sir Robert Francis QC, whose 2015 independent review into whistleblowing in the NHS recommended the creation of the role.
Francis, author of the Freedom to Speak Up review, said: “No service can be effective without listening to and acting on the concerns raised by its staff, let alone one which employs such skilled and dedicated people as the NHS. They are the lifeblood of the service, and the lifeline for their patients.
“However, the evidence clearly shows that many staff are fearful of speaking up.
“It is important that every part of the NHS develops a culture in which it is entirely normal to raise issues about safety, quality and effectiveness of the service, for those issues to be addressed and for those who raise them to be protected from any adverse consequences arising out of their disclosures.
“I believe that the National Guardian, her office and the network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians all have an invaluable role to play in supporting these changes.”
In her role as the National Guardian, Hughes will lead a cultural change so that healthcare staff feel supported to raise concerns about patient care.
Hughes said: “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.
“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.
“As a practising GP and with my experience in the NHS, both on the frontline and at leadership levels, I understand the challenges that lie ahead.
She added: “I want staff to always feel listened to regardless of where they work within the NHS, so that we can see real improvements in patient safety and staff experience. This is a real opportunity to work towards making that a reality.”
Hughes has been medical director for NHS England’s North Central and East London region since April 2013.
As medical director, she provides system leadership across 12 clinical commissioning groups and 12 NHS trusts.
She is also the responsible officer for nearly 3,000 GPs.
Hughes has been a practising GP for more than 20 years across primary, secondary and community healthcare.
David Behan, chief executive of the CQC, said: “Leading the healthcare system on this journey alongside the Freedom to Speak Up Guardians within NHS trusts will be a core aim of the National Guardian and her office, so that ultimately, patients can get the safe, high-quality and compassionate care they deserve.
“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.”