NHS gagging clauses to be outlawed
DEPARTING NHS staff are to be given a new legal right to raise issues which could be in the public interest, in a new move to outlaw gagging clauses which have prevented hundreds of NHS whistleblowers speaking out.
It comes after former United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust chief executive Gary Walker – who was responsible for Louth County Hospital – broke a similar order to raise concerns over hitting targets instead of concentrating on patient care.
He says he had no choice but to sign an agreement linked to a confidentiality clause in April 2011.
Last night Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted creating a culture of "openness and transparency" was vital to prevent a repeat of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, in which as many as 1,200 patients died.
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Mr Hunt said so-called "compromise agreements", under which NHS staff cannot raise anything embarrassing to their employers when they leave their jobs, would be barred with immediate effect.
And, as a result, staff will now be able to raise concerns over issues with things like patient safety, death rates and poor care.
He said: "There has been a culture where people felt if you speak up about problems in the NHS you didn't love the NHS. Actually, it's exactly the opposite.
"We need a culture of openness and transparency if we are going to stop another Mid Staffs from happening.
"The era of gagging NHS staff from raising their real worries about patient care must come to an end.
"Senior figures in the NHS had warned that the case of Mr Walker, who broke a gagging clause to speak out about high death rates, was the tip of the iceberg.
MPs want to question embattled NHS boss Sir David Nicholson about £14.7 million of taxpayers' money spent over three years on almost 600 "compromise agreements"' with departing staff.
An estimated 90 per cent of the documents contain gagging clauses which ensure potential whistleblowers are silenced, but there have been growing calls for the practice to be stopped.
The Health Secretary said: "We are just going to ban them. All these compromise agreements have to be approved by the Department of Health and the Treasury.
"We are now saying we won't approve any with a confidentiality clause that prevents people speaking out about patient safety or patient care.
"We will make sure there is a specific clause in them saying that nothing in them can prevent people speaking out on issues such as patient care.
"That culture of openness and transparency is at the heart of what we are going to try to do to drive up standards across the NHS."
Mr Hunt said a new chief inspector of hospitals would be charged with "creating a culture of consistent striving for excellence".
"The chief inspector will examine lots of areas, but one third of the entire score for a hospital will be based on patient experience – the extent to which patients would recommend your hospital to friends and family, the extent to which your complaints procedure actually listens to people," the Health Secretary said.
"In too many hospitals, staff think that patient care is something you do when you have done everything else."