14/03/2013 03:51 GMT | Updated 14/03/2013 04:50 GMT

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt Bans Gagging NHS Whistleblowers

Gagging clauses which prevent departing NHS staff from speaking out about patient safety or care have been banned by the Government.

Hundreds of whistleblowers have in the past been silenced by the clauses in their severance packages.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the practice would end with immediate effect to help create a culture of "openness and transparency" across the NHS.

Staff leaving the health service will instead have a new legal right that allows them to speak out about issues in the public interest, such as death rates or poor care.

The move comes in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, in which hundreds of patients are believed to have died because of poor care.

Hunt told the Mail: "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."

Almost £15 million was spent over three years on compromise agreements with staff leaving the NHS, the Mail said, of which 90% contained clauses to stop whistleblowers from speaking out.

Gary Walker, the former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, claimed he was sacked after raising concerns about patient safety.

He accepted a gagging clause as part of a settlement package but broke the terms to speak out last month about concerns over care, the Mail said.


Hunt told the newspaper: "We are just going to ban them (gagging clauses). All these compromise agreements have to be approved by the Department for Health and the Treasury.

"We are now saying we won't approve any with a confidentiality clause that prevents people from 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."

The Health Secretary said that a "culture of covering up problems" led to the Mid Staffordshire scandal, and that NHS staff who identify problems should be encouraged to come forward and speak out.

If their concerns are not heeded they should be given the ability to take them to the next level.

"That culture of openness and transparency is at the heart of what we are trying to do to drive up standards across the NHS," Hunt said.

"This can only be part of our response to Mid Staffs. If we have a culture where whistleblowing is necessary then obviously something has gone wrong."

The Government is also to appoint a new position of chief inspector of hospitals, to drive up standards and create a culture of consistently striving for excellence.

Hunt said: "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.

"In too many hospitals, staff think that patient care is something you do when you have done everything else."