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NHS gag clause in severance agreement banned by the government

Date: (14 March 2013)    |    

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The government has banned gag clauses which stops departing staff from speaking out about patient safety or care.
Hundreds of whistleblowers have been silenced by the clauses in severance agreements to stop them from highlighting facts that would put hospitals in a discomfort.
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the practice would be put to end with immediate effect so as to create an atmosphere of openness and transparency across the NHS.
Those staff leaving their jobs at the health service would be given a new legal right that would allow them to speak out about issues which are in the public interests, such as death rates or poor care.
This follows in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal in which hundreds of patients were believed to have died because of poor care.
Mr Hunt said the gagging era for NHS staff who were concerned about patient care must come to an end. It was illegal but now the NHS would get a clear message that they won’t be able to get agreements signed unless they were clear with the staff about their legal rights to blow the whistle.
He has already written to all NHS Trust to make it clear that gagging clauses were illegal and not in the spirit of the health service.
The Treasury and the Department of Health have to sign off compromise agreements when staff leave to make sure they are value for money for the taxpayer. This change would bring about contracts which would include clause that would state that employees are not gagged from whistleblowing if it has to be given the go ahead.
Almost £15m was reportedly spent on compromise agreements for NHS staff over three years, of which 90% contained clauses to stop staff speaking out. The case of Gary Walker was one such instance where he claimed that he had been sacked by the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust for raising concerns.
Mr Walker says he was paid £500,000 to keep quiet but broke his silence last month and now fears financial ruin if he is sued for breach of contract.
In a separate survey found a majority of nurses believe that raising concern over patient care lead them from being ignored or punished for speaking out.
Research for the magazine Nursing Times suggested that an NHS attitude of discouraging staff from reporting problems was putting patients at risk.
Many nurses are afraid of being labelled troublemakers or being ostracised by senior staff if they highlight concerns, the research found.