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NHS (Whistleblowers)

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

14. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that confidentiality agreements do not discourage NHS whistleblowers from coming forward. (117293)

The Department wrote to the NHS trusts most recently in January 2012 reminding them that compromise agreements should not prevent information from being disclosed in the public interest. It also said that they should satisfy themselves that their organisational policies are in line with previously issued guidance.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. She will be aware of the case of my constituent Mr Gary Walker, the former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, who has been prevented by a confidentiality agreement from raising his concerns about the effect on patient safety of the previous Government’s targets. I want to hear Mr Walker’s concerns and my constituents are entitled to hear them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look into this matter and give a categorical assurance that the concerns that Mr Walker has told us about will come into the public domain.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his supplementary question. I cannot comment on the individual details of the case, but I appreciate his concern that NHS staff could be prevented from speaking out by confidentiality agreements. Confidentiality and compromise agreements are allowed in contracts, but the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides that any clause in that contract or compromise agreement between employer and employee is void in so far as it acts to stop the employee making a protected disclosure.

Given the proliferation of new bodies being created to deliver NHS services, including a number of private sector organisations, can the Minister be confident that the NHS constitution protects whistleblowers working for private companies but delivering NHS public services?

I assure the hon. Lady that all must have regard to the NHS constitution. In fact, we issued guidance to NHS organisations that all contracts of employment should cover whistleblowing rights. In September 2010, we amended terms and conditions of service and guidance to the NHS on supporting and taking action on concerns raised by staff. The changes made to the NHS constitution make very clear the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and their employers in respect of whistleblowing. As I have pointed out, all those providing services on behalf of the NHS must have due regard to the NHS constitution.