Millions spent on doctor ‘gagging orders’ by NHS, investigation finds

A combination of pay-offs and fear is preventing whistleblowers going public with criticisms over care, reports Nigel Morris

The Independent [UK]
2 August 2010

Hospital doctors who quit their jobs are being routinely forced to sign “gagging orders” despite legislation designed to protect NHS whistleblowers, it is revealed today.

Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are being spent on contracts that deter doctors from speaking out about incompetence and mistakes in patient care.

Nearly 90 per cent of severance agreements hammered out between NHS trusts and departing doctors contain confidentiality clauses.

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Channel 4 News has discovered that at least 170 doctors in England and Wales agreed such a settlement with the trust employing them – backed up by pay-offs totalling more than £3m [$4.7 million US].

Fifty-five of the 64 contracts supplied by the trusts to the investigation team contained gagging clauses. The agreements have to be approved by the Treasury. The bureau discovered that a further 19 NHS staff who decided to go to employment tribunals
after blowing the whistle on hospital standards eventually settled before their allegations were made public.

The widespread use of “gagging orders” against senior NHS staff who could raise patient safety concerns will intensify the doubts over the protection given to whistleblowers.

Campaign groups claim that NHS managers sometimes resort to intimidatory tactics to deter medics from coming forward, while others that break cover can face years of expense and uncertainty before their cases reach court. The result, they say, is that doctors accept the gagging clauses in order to protect their careers and avoid legal wrangling.

Read the rest at The Independent.

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