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Airedale Hospital denies claim it used ‘gagging order’
11:25am Thursday 21st February 2013 in News
Health officials at Airedale Hospital have denied using gagging orders to stop staff voicing concerns over patient safety.
Geriatrician Mary Harrington says she resigned as a consultant at the Steeton hospital in December 2010 rather than sign a confidentiality clause.
She said it would have barred her from raising concerns to regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council.
Dr Harrington contacted the Herald after Health Minister Jeremy Hunt this week decided to write to every NHS Trust in England, warning bosses against allowing a culture that was “legalistic and defensive” in dealing with staff who raised concerns over patient care.
But chief executive of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust Bridget Fletcher insisted the hospital took transparency seriously.
She said: “We do not use gagging clauses in this hospital. We pride ourselves on having an open culture and regularly promote our whistleblowing policy as an essential part of our patient safety systems.
“We always encourage staff to come forward with any concerns they may have about a patient’s safety or care and these are always taken very seriously, fully investigated and acted upon when appropriate.”
Dr Harrington said she had been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement after raising a number of concerns over standards of care and the safety of elderly patients.
Instead of signing, she resigned.
Just months earlier, an inquiry into the deaths of three patients had severely criticised bosses at the Steeton hospital for allowing systemic failures between 2000 and 2002 in which senior night duty nurses were able to inject opiates without prescription.
Dr Harrington, who still works for the NHS, said she welcomed Mr Hunt’s letter, which highlighted fears that “gagging” clauses were being used to “frustrate” whistleblowing.
Mr Hunt also said a climate of “openness and transparency” was essential.
“Airedale NHS Trust should take note and change its practice as it is among the many apparently successful hospitals in England and Wales who regard this as normal practice when staff raise concerns,” said Dr Harrington.
In her resignation letter, she pointed out her duty to patient care overrode her employment contract.
She added that she would be absolutely delighted if Mr Hunt’s letter “had teeth” and forced NHS managers to adhere to a new set of guidelines.
“I have not benefited in any way from refusing to sign, other than a clear conscience. It is only now that I feel able to consider making any comments. Airedale’s practice of using gagging orders works against the patient safety agenda and maintaining standards of care for local residents,” she said.