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Gagging clauses to be removed from Scottish NHS pay-off deals

Confidentiality clauses that may stop nurses and doctors that have been sacked or made redundant speaking out about failings in care are to be taken out of standard NHS “settlement agreements” in Scotland.

The announcement, which was welcomed by nursing leaders, was made by Scottish health secretary Alex Neil at the Royal College of Nursing conference for its activists last week.

Settlement agreements can be drawn up in an attempt to avoid a painful and drawn-out process when a contract is terminated such as when someone is dismissed, made redundant or has a grievance that cannot be resolved.

Often they include confidentiality clauses designed to prevent former staff from revealing the pay-off they got, sensitive business data or patient records, or making derogatory comments about the organisation.

While they cannot be used to stop NHS staff speaking out about poor care, there are fears such clauses may have that effect.

Mr Neil said new standard settlement agreements would no longer include confidentiality clauses as a matter of course and there should be a presumption against using them.

“There is no place for gagging clauses in our NHS”

Alex Neil

Health boards can still include confidentiality clauses if the member of staff explicitly agrees but the Scottish Government would be automatically notified so ministers can keep an eye on how they are being used.

“I have always been clear that there is no place for gagging clauses in our NHS,” Mr Neil told the conference.

Alex Neil

Alex Neil MSP

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

“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.”

RCN Scotland associate director Norman Provan said the move would “help to avoid confusion”.

Mr Neil also announced he would be establishing a national team to support health boards address issues such as bullying and harassment.

The team will set up a network of mediators that can be called in to try and resolve complex cases at an early stage.

Readers' comments (8)

  • tinkerbell

    Seems the Scottish are so much more sensible and HONEST!

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  • tinkerbell - You'd have thought so, & it is really good it's gone from standard agreement.
    But for something that's meant to avoid "a painful and drawn-out process when a contract is terminated such as when someone ... has a grievance that cannot be resolved" ...
    9-months....that's not painful and drawn out?! (& only that 'quick' from my side chasing up)

    "Health boards can still include confidentiality clauses if the member of staff explicitly agrees" - Or they can put it in, alongside other things which even lawyer says aren't usually and shouldn't/don't need to be there and threaten to withdraw offer unless you sign it with all the bits they want in (after this govt announcement)

    All it's confirmed to me is that the organisation with govt report into its bullying culture is still a bully and more interested in changing appearances than actually changing.

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  • isn't gagging illegal? if not, why not?

    isn't freedom of speech a basic human right, and isn't it enshrined in British and Scottish Law?

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 8-Mar-2014 2:19 am
    Anonymous | 8-Mar-2014 7:55 am

    Exactly, Corruption, it's everywhere & it's so exhausting.

    Justice for all!

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  • tinkerbell - looking for a 'like' button.

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  • would be great and far more useful if we could have Disqus like commenting here where we can recommend or down vote comments, reply directly to others where sharing of information is so important in healthcare and edit those we have already posted if we need to.

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  • Anonymous | 10-Mar-2014 7:14 am

    Seconded!

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  • Anonymous | 7-Apr-2014 1:17 am

    I once took my suggestion up with NT. I see they have now changed some of their editorial team so it might be worth pursuing again.
    I think the issue was that it requires investment in new software which would add to their costs.

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