Dr Henrietta Hughes OBE has announced that she will be standing down as National Guardian for the NHS, after five years in the role.

Dr Hughes was appointed to the role in July 2016. Previously a Medical Director at NHS England, she continued her clinical role as a GP in central London alongside her national guardian duties, including supporting the COVID vaccination roll-out.

The role of the National Guardian was established in 2016 following the Freedom to Speak Up Review to help lead a cultural change within the NHS.

The National Guardian’s Office leads, trains and supports the network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in England and provides challenge and learning to the healthcare system on matters related to speaking up.

There are now over 700 Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in more than 400 NHS primary and secondary care, independent sector organisations and national bodies. Freedom to Speak Up Guardians support workers in their organisations who wish to speak up, ensuring that they are thanked, that the issues they raise are responded to, and that they receive feedback on the actions taken as a result.

Dr Henrietta Hughes said: “I would like to pay tribute to the incredible workers in the NHS who have faced the most challenging time in our history.  I would like personally to thank the people who have brought  50,000 cases to Freedom to Speak Up Guardians to keep their patients and colleagues safe and well. 

“It takes courage to speak up and also courage to listen up and follow up. It has been the most tremendous privilege to work with Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and my team at the National Guardian’s Office who display this courage on a daily basis.  The impact of their work is outstanding and has moved the dial on the speaking up culture in the NHS.

“I would also like to thank leaders who have supported and encouraged speaking up. You are the future of the NHS and I am confident that this important initiative will continue to flourish under your care so that speaking up is business as usual in the NHS.”

Sir Robert Francis QC said: For five years now Henrietta has brilliantly led the Freedom to Speak Up agenda transforming the Review from words on a page to reality in the life of so much of our health services. Her determination, energy, commitment and humanity has been evident at every step of the way.  In short she has made a massive contribution towards the changes in the NHS that have been needed for patients. The vibrant networks of Guardians will stand as evidence of her achievements.  She will be much missed but we wish her well in her new role .

There remains much work to do in this field to improve the lives of workers so that they all feel safe to speak up, and confident that if they raise a matter, it will be listened to and acted upon. So the work continues on the basis of the firm foundations she has built.

I wish Henrietta every success in her new role, and look forward to working with her successor.”

Dr Hughes will be leaving the National Guardian’s Office in September to take up  the Chair of The Institute of Integrated Systemic Therapy – Childhood First, a charity which promotes and furthers the care, treatment and rehabilitation of children and adolescents who are psychologically and emotionally disturbed.

John Harrison, Current Chair of Trustees for the Institute of Integrated Systemic Therapy – Childhood First, said: “I am delighted and honoured to welcome Henrietta Hughes OBE to her new role as Chair of Trustees for the charity. Henrietta’s considerable knowledge and experience will ensure that the charity continues to fulfil its mission to transform the lives of children and young people who suffer severe emotional and psychological difficulties, so that they can relate well to others, fulfil their potential and enjoy life.”

The Care Quality Commission will now lead the open competitive recruitment process for the next National Guardian for the NHS, in association with the co-sponsors NHS England/Improvement and the post will be advertised shortly.