NHS “gagging orders” to be banned
The government will ban the “gagging orders” that have previously prevented NHS staff from speaking out, allowing them to “blow the whistle” regarding concerns for patient care.
The gagging clause is present in severance packages given to NHS staff and aims to stop them from saying anything which could discredit an NHS hospital. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that this will now end and no more compromise agreements with confidentiality clauses are to be approved.
Mr Hunt explained how these agreements would be changed for the better. “We will make sure that there is a specific clause in them saying that nothing in them can prevent people speaking out”, he explained.
This means that staff leaving a hospital will be able to draw attention to issues of public interest such as negligence or high death rates without repercussions.
The 1998 Public Disclosure Act states that it is against the law to prevent whistle-blowing when it comes to a safety issue.
Mr Hunt said: “I’ve already been clear with the NHS that this is illegal – but now the NHS will get a clear message that they won’t even get these agreements signed off unless and until they are clear with staff about their legal right to blow the whistle.”
In addition, he added that “a culture of openness and transparency” is needed to improve the standards of the NHS.
This follows the Stafford Hospital scandal, where hundreds of patients died due to bad care. Mr Hunt said this happened because of a “culture of covering up problems” adding that “we need to encourage front-line NHS employees who see problems to come forward”.
Former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT), Gary Walker has drawn attention to “gagging orders”, having broken his own in order to speak out about concerns for patient’s care and his own dismissal in 2010.
Mr Walker said of the NHS, “If you consider that the people that have been running the NHS have created that culture of fear, they either need to be brought to account or new people need to be brought in to change that culture”.
The ULHT are one of fourteen trusts currently being investigated for high death rates. The government has also announced that a post of “Chief Inspector of Hospitals” will be created to improve standards.