UK Politics

NHS reforms signal the end of staff 'gagging clauses'

Medic on hospital ward Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption NHS staff will no longer be bound by so called 'gagging orders' when they leave employment after new reforms

So-called "gagging clauses" are to be removed from contracts when a member of staff leaves the NHS.

Health minister Alex Neil said a new standard settlement agreement will be drafted which does not include confidentiality clauses.

He had previously told the Scottish parliament that such clauses were often used at the request of NHS staff.

The new template agreement will be developed in discussion with staff over the coming months.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conference, Mr Neil said that a new standard settlement agreement will be drafted that excludes confidentiality clauses.

The current template agreements include standard confidentiality clauses, although these cannot be used to stop the reporting of concerns about patient safety or malpractice in NHS Scotland.

The new template agreement, which will be developed in discussion with stakeholder groups such as the RCN, will be finalised over the coming months.

'Clear difference'

Mr Neil will also impress to health boards that the future standard practice must be against the use of confidentiality clauses.

This will mean staff who receive the new agreements will not be bound by any confidentiality clauses, unless both they and the board explicitly agree to its inclusion.

Any use of any confidentiality clauses would also result in the Scottish government being notified to allow the clauses to be better scrutinised.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Neil said: "I have always been very clear that there is no place for gagging clauses in our NHS.

"However, while there is a clear difference between gagging clauses and confidentiality clauses, I recognise that there can be a perception that these could be used to prevent staff from speaking out about failures in care offered to patients.

"That is why I have taken the decision that a new standard agreement will be drafted, which will remove the automatic inclusion of confidentiality clauses.

He added: "There is no clause whatsoever that can legally bar anyone from raising their concerns about patient safety, and I repeated today that anyone who is currently subject to a confidentiality clause who has any such concerns will not be hindered in anyway."

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