The Unbearable Lightness of the National Guardian’s Office. Or how the National Guardian spends our money on publicity for the government’s Freedom To Speak Up Scam. A Night at the HSJ Awards

By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 1 November 2019 

 Summary: The National Guardian pays for publicity by sponsoring a category of award by the Health Service Journal which is billed as independently judged. However, according to disclosed documents she is one of the judges for the award and her Office has also influenced the selection of other judges. Disclosed correspondence and the contract between the National Guardian and HSJ give the details of the marketing services and PR tactics that have been dubiously purchased by the National Guardian. The National Guardian admits to spending a total of £33, 394.85 on the HSJ awards over a two year period. The wrong values are promoted through a culture of superficiality, self-promotion and self-aggrandisement. They run counter to the Nolan principles of reflective public service and selflessness.



The National Guardian repeatedly claims success and effectiveness of the Freedom To Speak Up project without producing any substantiating evidence, despite her training and understanding as a senior doctor, who knows the professional importance of acting in an evidence based manner:

The Low Fact National Guardian’s Office   

 Instead of evidence, there is a stream of lightweight PR activity, some unforgiveably distasteful.

For instance, posing for a selfie with David Loughton, the CEO of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust who has been embroiled in repeated whistleblower controversies and who was personally criticised by a Verita investigation for his conduct towards a member of staff who had made protected disclosures.

Screenshot 2019-10-27 at 19.28.27

Whistleblower Professor David Ferry, another Royal Wolverhampton trust employee and senior doctor who suffered serious detriment under David Loughton’s management described to BBC File on Four how he received a death threat, and how his office was vandalised and racist graffiti was scrawled on his office wall because his wife is a Black woman:

“FERRY: Things were deteriorating, and after a particularly difficult day in the department, there was a lot of upset and that night, when I went to my car, there was a sticker on my car that said ‘Death to the bastard Geordie whistle-blower.’ You think, this is getting very difficult. And shortly after that, it was decided there was going to be an external inquiry into rectal radiotherapy treatments in the Trust. Ultimately, that inquiry by national level experts in rectal cancer supported my perspective.” 

“FERRY: Somebody entered my office and wrote racist graffiti on the wall, smashed my precious family photographs.

COX: When you found out about that, that your office has been trashed, there’s this racist graffiti, that must have been pretty worrying?

FERRY: It is very worrying and my eldest daughter was doing her GCSEs at the time and my wife is black, of course, and you have to consider carefully what you do. I think that some people were hoping I would react to that and say perhaps some inappropriate things, which would give them an excuse to suspend me or exclude me, but I think I managed that difficult episode with more control and dignity than I thought I might in the first days after it occurred.”

For the last two years, the National Guardian has squandered public money on sponsoring a Health Service Journal Awards category as a way of boosting her Office’s profile and spreading propaganda about the government’s Freedom To Speak Up scam.

This is especially galling to the whistleblower community which knows that she has not spent her limited budget on enough case reviews, and has inexplicably turned away some whistleblowers in distress on spurious grounds.

For example, she refused a case review on arbitrarily conjured up exclusion criterion at Brighton and Sussex.

In another case, she did so the basis of an extreme and uncaring but politically expedient interpretation of her remit, with devastating consequences for the whistleblower.


Henrietta pays for AND judges her own awards

Last year, the winner in the National Guardian’s Speak Up  category was East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Jane Butcher Speak Up Guardian East Lancashire selfie with Henrietta Hughes HSJ awards 2018

Jane Butcher is a Human Resources Business Partner at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust


This was highly questionable in view of the recent case of whistleblower Aditya Agrawal, a surgeon who was found to be unfairly dismissed by East Lancashire. Moreover, FOI data had shown that East Lancashire was also a super user of super gags:

FOI disclosure by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, 18 May 2016 Ref. 2016/222

“Please can you advise me in regards to the last 5 years:

1) How many compromise agreements has the Trust entered into with staff or former staff?


2) How many of these compromise agreements require staff members not to disclose the existence of the compromise agreement itself?


3) How many of these compromise agreements contain non-disparagement clauses that require staff members not to criticise the employees of the Trust?



What is even more extraordinary is that documents disclosed under FOI reveal that Henrietta Hughes is actually a judge in her own sponsored HSJ awards category:

Award henrietta judging 2018

Screenshot 2019-11-01 at 05.41.10


As uncharmingly put by a member of Hughes’ Office, the attitude in short seems to be: ‘She pays, she gets to judge’:

HH pays, she judges


A check of the published 2019 list of HSJ Awards judges does not reveal Henrietta Hughes’ name amongst the throng, even though the correspondence disclosed by her Office indicates that she acted as a judge last year and is due to judge this year.

But to openly advertise her role as a judge might pop the bubble that the awards are independently judged.

In fact, the disclosed correspondence between HSJ and the National Guardian shows that the National Guardian was invited to make suggestions for judges, and to approach potential judges, and that her Office rather unflatteringly sent a round robin to a bunch of folk asking them to volunteer as judges:

Screenshot 2019-11-01 at 05.43.29

Ex Speak Up Guardians were favoured:

Award Ex Guardian non partisan

So unsurprisingly, it seems that she who pays the piper gets to call the direction of the judging.


Friends with benefits

Indeed, HSJ made it clear that sponsor influence over the award process is part of the deal:

“…it comes with a range benefits including being involved in the criteria creation, judging panel and the publicity and platform which goes with that”:

Award rack rate benefits


Puff, puff, puff

As part of the loot-for-limelight transaction, the National Guardian purchased two sponsored HSJ columns with the glamorous promise of:


·       “A maximum of 400 words written by and attributed to a client representative

  • Client logo which appears alongside the column
  • Author photo which appears alongside the column
  • One tweet via the HSJnews account
  • One mention of the column in an HSJ daily newsletter”


There was hypocrisy in that whilst cynically paying for publicity, the National Guardian’s Office did not want to appear to do so. They did not like the idea of a vulgar, visible reminder that these columns were sponsored:

Screenshot 2019-11-01 at 04.55.09

In addition to the sponsored columns guff, the National Guardian also bought herself an article about her award by an HSJ journalist, as part of the deal.

Here is how it apparently works: you write some stuff and “drive traffic” towards a particular award category. Everything’s a commodity, innit?

Award journalist interview

Spoken to the journalist

Journalist about article


Drum roll, cue uncontainable excitement

Here in a diagram is how the magical HSJ awards drama is constructed:

Award schedule of publicity build up

With regard to HSJ’s reference to a “constant email and social media campaign”, here is the National Guardian’s Office referring less than respectfully to “ratcheting up comms” to draw more responses to the National Guardian’s award:

Awards ratcheting up comms

An email from HSJ refers to “capitalising on the finalists”:


Commoditise, commoditise, commoditise.

Even award judges can be glamourised and used to stir up some buzz:

Judge vox pop


The National Guardian gags herself

This is the contract between HSJ and the National Guardian’s Office, signed by Henrietta Hughes herself:

National Guardian HSJ awards partnership agreement 2019

The contract contains a non-disparagement clause:

  1. “You will not do, or omit to do, (and you will procure that none of your employees, agents or contractors will do, or omit to do) anything which may:
  1. bring the Event or us into disrepute;
  1. disparage the Event or us;
  2. damage our goodwill associated with the Event; or
  3. otherwise prejudice the image or reputation of the Event or us.”

Oh the heavy burden and price of celebrity.


What on earth is a “poser table”?

In the National Guardian’s HSJ Awards goody bag is a “branded poser table”

Special price

Google only gives me a “Poseur table”:

Screenshot 2019-11-01 at 02.49.16

Nuff said.


Moonlighting regulators

 Repeating what we have seen on past occasions, the FOI data reveals that staff from NHS regulators are questionably willing to act as judges in HSJ’s beauty parades. Rachel Clarke from the whistleblowing team at NHS Improvement reportedly offered her services as a judge for the National Guardian’s award:

Rachel Clarke

This must surely conflict with the day job. For example, how might she respond to a whistleblower reporting about a trust to which she has awarded an HSJ prize? Could she be totally fair and unbiased? I am in touch with several NHS whistleblowers currently reliant on her doing her duty, so these are a very real considerations.

The National Guardian is not a regulator but is in the privileged position of being able to borrow power from the regulators, and she has the role of producing reports which potentially judge organisations’ probity. The same questions therefore apply to her.


The cost of buying ready-made gloss

How much of our money is the National Guardian prepared to spend in flattering the government?

The formal FOI disclosure can be found here.

These are the headline figures:


The total expenditure by the NGO, covering both years asked for, is

£33, 394.85.

“Please include the cost of: – Sponsoring HSJ awards”

This corresponds to the following:

2018: £16,500 2019: £16,500

Please note that both packages for each year include:

The award itself
The shortlisting process
The judging process
2 x tables of 10 people at the award ceremony Hospitality costs at the award ceremony
2 x sponsored columns in the Health Service Journal”


Then add in all the hefty personnel hours from disruption and time wasting caused by award applications, self-congratulatory local trust newsletters about being shortlisted as well as winning, contrived interviews, attempts to hawk non-stories to local newspapers and general parading about on social media.

The self-aggrandisement and me-me-me show is corrosive in the values that it instils. It runs counter to the spirit of Nolan standards, and it is lamentable that the National Guardian chooses to set such a poor example.

But it is no more than one would expect of a glorified minor outlet of the DHSC press office, complete with a head of office who arrived from the DHSC.   



Running true to form, the National Guardian’s 2019 ‘Freedom To Speak Up Organisation of the Year’ award was given to Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust on 6 November 2019. This trust was found only in September 2019 to have failed to act on staff concerns on unsafe staffing, which was followed by an inpatient homicide of a patient. It also has mediocre scores, including on Speaking Up, on its latest annual staff survey.

Servalan rewards Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust

Either the National Guardian undertakes zero due diligence, or does not care about such impediments, when handing out the baubles.

The National Guardian regularly tells everyone else they must prioritise learning, but shows little sign of learning herself. The stream of un-evidenced claims from her Office, which fall apart at the first ray of sunshine, continues unabated:

Another empty promise by the National Guardian’s Office:  Freedom To Speak Guardians will listen and learn from ex-employees


BS FreedomToSpeakUpometer










5 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of the National Guardian’s Office. Or how the National Guardian spends our money on publicity for the government’s Freedom To Speak Up Scam. A Night at the HSJ Awards

  1. A very difficult read for which I thank you.

    I can accept that in any of our institutions, from time to time, ‘anomalies’ occur which do not reflect well on that particular institution and its purpose and obligations.

    However, when the ‘anomalies’ are not only endemic but, are part of the foundation and therefore accepted by those who should know better, then we have abandoned all that is civil, moral and humane.

    I can’t even make a joke about poseur tables symbolic though they are.


      1. It’s heartbreaking simply because of all of the good, decent people having to struggle within this system.

        Btw, the first time in my life I’ve actually felt sorry for Daleks.

        Take care and thank you.


  2. Evidently a great success. Back slaps all around. Clearly the office can close soon as all its stakeholders believe all is well. Bring on Trump for the closing ceremonyt.! Bigly thanks all

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi

    thanks for this and some of your other articles. I don’t always agree with everything you write as a Guardian who works really hard to support staff in a sometimes very difficult role however I found the background to this article interesting. Keep up the good work Minh.


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