NHS lawyers should not be able to gag whistleblowers from revealing damning information in the public interest, an MP has said.
Labour’s Katy Clark said too often lawyers representing the NHS were using gagging clauses when settling employment cases with whistleblowers to prevent them from publishing details of serious wrong-doing.
During a debate in Westminster Hall, she said that where there was a clear public interest, the NHS should not be trying to gag employees as they sought to terminate their contracts.
In a recent case at United Lincolnshire Hospitals, lawyers for the NHS used a “super-gag” to prevent former chief executive Gary Walker from talking publicly as part of a severance deal worth more than £500,000, MPs heard.
Ms Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) said: “Gagging orders do seem to be used in the public sector, particularly in the National Health Service to prevent individuals from talking about concerns.
“There is a great deal of concern that information that it would be helpful to put in the public domain is not being put in the public domain because of a fear of victimisation individuals feel.”
Business Minister Jo Swinson said she would raise the issue with her colleagues at the Department for Health.
She said: “There are protections in terms of the (Public Interest Disclosure) Act and we need to make sure they are being properly applied. I will certainly look at that issue.”
Ms Swinson said the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will make it easier for employers to understand their rights when dealing with whistleblowers.
She added: “It also maintains protection for genuine whistleblowers and prevents misuse of the legislation.”