Hospitals have spent £2m on more than 50 gagging orders banning staff from speaking out, it has been revealed.
Tory MP Steve Barclay, who obtained the figures, accused NHS chief Sir David Nicholson of either failing to ask questions about the orders or being “complicit in a cover-up”.
He said Sir David should stand down now – ahead of his scheduled retirement next year – because the culture in the health service had to change.
At least 52 staff have been silenced using the orders since 2008, according to details released following Mr Barclay’s Freedom of Information Act request.
The orders – some of which cost as much as £500,000 – are all thought to contain confidentiality clauses.
Mr Barclay is a member of the influential Commons spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee, which Sir David is due to appear in front of on Wednesday.
The North East Cambridgeshire MP told The Daily Telegraph: “It is simply not plausible that the man who was supposed to be running the NHS was seemingly unaware that employees threatening to speak out were being offered golden goodbyes in return for a vow of silence.”
The £2m comes on top of the £15m it emerged in March had been spent by NHS hospital trusts on silencing almost 600 staff, which prompted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ban the use of gagging clauses in compromise agreements.
That £15m did not include “judicially mediated” settlements, under which hospitals reached an agreement with staff which was then signed off by a judge or senior lawyer rather than the Department of Health or Treasury – meaning the Government had no chance to block them.
The Telegraph reported that Sir David told MPs in March that he had only come across one of the orders.
But Mr Barclay said: “As the accounting officer who has presided over this culture he is either complicit in a systemic cover-up or has failed to ask questions. If he knew about them he has misled Parliament.
“The culture in the NHS needs to change, he has to stand down now. What patient safety concerns have been covered up (by these gagging orders)? How many lives have been put at risk?”
A Department of Health spokesman said the system had been changed so that all severance payments were properly scrutinised and staff were made aware of their whistle-blowing rights.
“Judicial mediation payments do not mean that someone is gagged – it is a way of resolving a dispute and suitable cases for this are decided on by a judge,” he said.
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Article source: http://news.sky.com/story/1102419