• Health and social care secretary said staff should “feel free” to publicise concerns such as PPE shortages
  • Some staff say they’ve been ‘gagged’ by their trusts and other NHS bodies
  • Hancock: “People should be able to talk about problems”

NHS staff should “feel free” to speak out about problems like protective equipment shortages, Matt Hancock has said, despite many having been warned not to do so.

The health and social care secretary told the daily coronavirus briefing on 21 April that it’s “totally normal” for NHS staff to raise concerns about personal protective equipment shortages in their areas and said “transparency is important”.

HSJ has heard from multiple senior local NHS leaders that they have been given strong warnings not to communicate externally about the covid-19 response, with national officials seeking to closely grip information given to the media.

And there have been several reports of healthcare professionals having been “gagged” by hospitals and NHS bodies, with some reports of threats of disciplinary action if they raise concerns on social media or speak to journalists. Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust issued social media guidance to employees which lists “political issues, such as PPE, testing and exit strategies” as topics to “avoid”.

Asked by a Yorkshire Post journalist about NHS staff whether he would guarantee no NHS staff would be punished for raising legitimate concerns publicly, the health and social care secretary said: “Yes of course people should be able to talk about the problems that there are, and indeed they do.

“I’ve seen both fantastic examples of people working hard and… going public with the work they’re doing and the conditions they’re working under, and I’ve also seen some people saying they’re delighted there’s good PPE.

“And we’ve also seen people saying there’s a problem in their area. I think that’s totally normal and standard, and people should feel free to talk about what happens at work. I think that transparency is important, it is the sort of approach we’ve tried to take as a government.”