NHS trust 'tried to gag' doctor who spoke out

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An NHS trust tried to impose a gagging clause on a consultant as part of a deal to terminate his employment, to prevent him speaking out about issues of patient safety, it is alleged today.

The Liverpool Women's Foundation NHS Trust offered Peter Bousfield, a long-serving consultant, early retirement and a termination payment after failing to resolve complaints he had raised about staffing levels.

But it demanded that he should not speak out about his concerns with anyone other than the trust board and the Secretary of State, according to the British Medical Journal, which obtained documents relating to the case.

Gagging clauses in severance agreements are routine to prevent each party making derogatory comments about the other after the deal is signed. But they have been banned in the NHS where matters of public interest are involved under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

The BMJ claims the Liverpool example is not an isolated one. Freedom of Information requests to the trust disclosed 11 other severance agreements with gagging clauses since 1998, variously banning the doctors concerned from contacting the media or threatening recovery of the amount paid if they did so.

The journal cites Public Concern at Work, a lobbying organisation which said it had anecdotal evidence of severance agreements being drawn up "with quite blatant clauses in them, where people are being paid a specific amount extra not to say anything".

The Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust said last night: "The trust is satisfied that the terms of the agreement reached with Mr Bousfield have not prevented him from raising concerns about patient safety with the appropriate regulatory bodies."

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