Glowing references for sacked senior managers could be banned in a government clampdown on embarrassing pay-offs.

The move was mooted by health secretary Alan Johnson in response to a parliamentary question on Tuesday. Labour MP John Spellar asked what the government was doing about the 'scandal' of managers who are dismissed on severance pay and later find employment elsewhere in the NHS. Mr Johnson said: 'We have to stop this culture, not least of all because we have to protect the integrity of those senior managers who are never in this position in the first place.'

He also called for notice periods to be restricted to six months. His comments follow the outcry over Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust's plan to pay off chief executive Rose Gibb after she presided over two outbreaks of Clostridium difficile last year that killed 90 patients.

The payment has been blocked by Mr Johnson while the Department of Health seeks legal advice.