Gagging orders bar 'hundreds' of NHS staff from speaking out

Feb 18, 2013

Leading surgeon claims NHS is taking a 'Stalinist' approach to silencing critics of health standards

Getty Images

GAGGING orders described as "Stalinist" are preventing hundreds of doctors, nurses and managers from speaking out about poor care in NHS hospitals, a prominent surgeon has told the Daily Mail.

Mike Parker, a recently retired laparoscopy and colorectal surgeon who sits on the council of the Royal College of Surgeons, told the paper that the case of Gary Walker - the former head of an NHS Trust in Lincolnshire who broke a gagging order to allege he was sacked for putting patient safety ahead of performance targets – was "just the tip of the iceberg".

Many former NHS staff are being silenced by gagging orders written in to their severance agreements, Parker said. He claimed the secret deals were "a threat to the survival of the Health Service".

Walker spoke out about his experiences in the NHS following the publication of a damning report into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust where up to 1200 patients died at two hospitals between 2005 and 2009.

The Mail says freedom of information requests have revealed that 90 per cent of severance agreements between NHS health trusts and doctors include a clause that prevents them from discussing their former employer. The revelation has prompted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to say he will write to all health trusts, urging them to drop the clauses or face "the consequences" if they don’t.

Parker, who was speaking in a private capacity, said discussions with colleagues across the UK had made him aware that "something akin to Stalinism" was operating in the NHS. He said Walker - who was sacked as the chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals in 2010 - was "speaking on behalf of many".

The Mail says its investigations show that as many as 170 doctors have had a gagging order included as part of their tax-payer funded severance package when they parted ways with the NHS. Parker says "tough legal powers" are needed to make sure whistleblowers are not "prosecuted or persecuted".

Julie Bailey, founder of the pressure group Cure the NHS, agreed that action was required and said gagging clauses were a disgrace in a caring profession.


Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

But it takes two to "gag".
The person who is alleging problems has to agree to accept a large sum of money to go quietly. If they are so concerned about the NHS why do they agree to this? If their claims are so strong they can talk and then take the trust to a tribunal if they are subsequently sacked.