Health reform chief backed contracts with ‘gagging clause’

The Sunday Times   Martyn Halle Published: 6 March 2016

Mackey: deals stopped former staff revealing informationMackey: deals stopped former staff revealing information

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.”

One thought on “Health reform chief backed contracts with ‘gagging clause’

  1. Rarely there has to be an opportunity for the employers to terminate the contract with mutually agreed contract not to disclose some of the details but this should not include anything if there are concerns about patient safety, staff well-being or directors or managers probity or conduct is of any concerns or any criminal actions. These have no place in our NHS.

    However in an ideal world all termination must be the last resort and organisations must follow proper procedures with proper investigation. I have dismissed or terminated contract of 4 doctors and all are locums and all for serious conduct issues.

    It is morally wrong to dismiss anyone who raised genuine concerns about patient safety or staff well-being or the criminal act in the organisation unless they use this as an excuse to cover their own poor care or poor behaviour.

    78 Staff have raised concerns with me and all of them have been dealt and this has helped us to improve the safety and quality of care of our patients and also our staff. Thanks to the courage of these brave staff. Staff will raise concerns if there is a good culture, good leadership and leaders act on these concerns without blame and deal fairly and correctly

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