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“Gagging Clauses” in Compromise Agreements

The NHS has said “gagging clauses” should not be used in exchange for severance packages being paid to health workers.

They have issued guidance after a case where a former hospital boss claims he was threatened with being taken to court after he spoke out about patient care.

Gary Walker claims his career was ruined after he refused to make staff stick to “targets” for waiting times because this would compromise patient care.

He was sacked and brought legal action against the NHS, but the case was settled and he entered into a legally-binding Compromise Agreement which saw him paid a lump sum.

The agreement contained a confidentiality clause that meant Mr Walker, the former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, was not able to speak publicly about his case or any of his concerns about patient care.

He wanted to warn of the pressures managers were put under to hit targets which led to the Staffordshire hospital scandal, where ill patients who were turned away later died at home.

He said: “I was in danger of losing my house – I have children to support. And one thing you must remember that if you’re attacking the very top of the NHS the sanctions are pretty dramatic. I spent 20 years in the health service and I’m blacklisted from it. I can’t work in the health service again.”

The NHS has now issued a statement that hospital trust should not try to suppress the rights of staff to speak out in exchange for severance payments.

The Department of Health said: “NHS organisations should support staff who raise concerns, ensure those concerns are fully investigated and ensure that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to.

“Local policies should prohibit the inclusion of confidentiality “gagging” clauses in contracts of employment and compromise agreements which seek to prevent the disclosure of information which is in the public interest.”

Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry into the Stafford hospital scandal, demanded that such agreements should be “banned”.

The Glasgow Law Practice has experience in preparing and advising on Compromise Agreements and initial advice is free. Contact ss@theglasgowlawpractice.co.uk