Health reform chief backed contracts with ‘gagging clause’

Mr Hunt cannot be accused of disloyalty. His chiefs who introduced shaming clauses are still empowered. Have they changed? It is disgraceful that there is not yet a call for exit interviews, and it is too late for these to be done “in house”. They have to be done by an uncompromised third party. This is not good news….. and bodes badly for the future. Even when Mark Britnell published his excellent book (In search of the perfect health system) he failed to mention exit interviews…


Martyn Halle in the Sunday Times 6th March reports: Health reform chief backed contracts with ‘gagging clause’

THE senior official tasked with implementing urgent reform of the NHS authorised the use of contracts that were later outlawed amid concern they could dissuade whistleblowers from speaking out.

In his last five years as chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT), Jim Mackey sanctioned dozens of compromise agreements — now known as settlement agreements — which prevented departing employees from disclosing information about the trust.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that 62 of the agreements were signed between 2011 and 2015. The 45 agreements signed between 2011 and 2013 included a clause that prevented staff from disclosing the existence of the agreement.

Mackey has been chosen by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to lead NHS Improvement, a new regulatory body created by the merger of the NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor, which comes into effect in April.

Three years ago, Hunt was forced to ban “gagging clauses” in compromise agreements. He took the step after Gary Walker, a former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, broke such a clause to speak about his dismissal in 2010 and concerns over care. At the time, Hunt 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 are now saying we won’t approve any [compromise agreements] with a confidentiality clause that prevents people speaking out about patient safety or patient care.”

NHFT said none of its compromise agreements involved staff members who had raised concerns about safety or care. It said that, like many trusts, it used the agreements when employees decided to accept a voluntary severance package.

Ann Stringer, executive director of human resources at NHFT, said: “Our use of settlement agreements are in line with national best practice, fully support the openness and transparency agenda and should in no way be confused with the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which allows any employee, whether or not they are party to a settlement agreement, to make a disclosure in the public interest. We . . . would categorically refute any suggestion that our staff are not able to raise concerns.”

But Fiona Bell, who received an apology from NHFT for the poor treatment received by her grandfather, who died in 2009, and who obtained the figures, said: “Gagging staff with compromise agreements is a way of stopping them speaking about patient safety.”

Mackey declined to comment. The Department of Health said: “Under no circumstances should clauses seek to prevent the departing employee from making a disclosure in the public interest.”

Continuing Health Care funding needs to be rationed honestly, universally, and overtly. The only fair way is by a third party without the Perverce Incentive to refuse..

This entry was posted in A Personal View, Consultants, Gagging, NHS managers, Stories in the Media, Trust Board Directors on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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