Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has said so-called “gagging clauses” within NHS severance agreements will be banned to encourage more whistleblowers to come forward to speak out against alleged hospital failings.

He has said departing staff should be given new legal rights to raise issues – including patient safety, death rates and poor care – that could be in the public interest even if they have signed settlement agreements.

According to reports, £14.7m has been spent in the last three years on some 600 settlement agreements for departing NHS staff.

Donna Martin, an expert employment solicitor from London solicitors Mackrell Turner Garrett has commented on this proposal.

“Last month Gary Walker, the former CEO of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, spoke out about patient care and safety despite being prevented from doing so under the terms of a compromise agreement he had previously signed,” she says.

“Today the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has banned so called “gagging clauses” contained within NHS settlement agreements. Employees now leaving the NHS will have the right to speak out about issues which are in the public interest, particularly in relation to poor patient are.

“From now on, settlement agreements issued to departing NHS employees will contain a clause stating that nothing contained in them will prevent the employee from speaking out about patient care.

“It is not unusual to see ‘carve outs’ in settlement agreements across all industries, particularly in relation to personal injury claims, and in order to create a culture of openness and transparency within the NHS, such carve outs are essential.”