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Gagging clauses banned, Nicholson to go (again) and Big Brother-style electronic tattoos

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Thursday 14 March

The Government has once again proved itself adept at changing legislation based on public opinion of the day and banned gagging clauses in severance arrangements for NHS staff.

Following the Francis Inquiry into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Daily Mail that ‘the era of gagging NHS staff from raising their real worries about patient care’ must end. A ‘culture of openness and transparency’ was at the heart of trying to drive up NHS standards, he added.

The Mail speculates that £14.7million of taxpayers’ money has been spent over three years on almost 600 ‘compromise agreements’ with departing staff.

‘There has been a culture where people felt if you speak up about problems in the NHS you didn’t love the NHS. Actually it’s exactly the opposite,’ Mr Hunt said.

Staying on the Mid Staffs fall out, the Telegraph has quoted two sources as claiming that NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson is set to ‘pre-announce’ his retirement as chief executive.

He ran the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust which was in charge of Stafford hospital between August 2005 and April 2006 and the Government apparently wants Sir David will step down later in the year or early in 2014 in order to manage the first months of the NHS reforms.

A source said: ‘Behind the scenes, Sir David is absolutely crucial to the success of the NHS reforms. He is the person who has really got a grip on NHS hospitals and who is driving up standards, for example waiting lists. For him to simply resign tomorrow could have disastrous consequences.’

However, the sources acknowledged there were ‘political and moral’ factors which meant he would have to announce he would have to step down at a specified point.

Finally, the unlikely source of the Guardian’s architecture design blog brings us news of an electronic tattoo that monitors patients’ symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed an worryingly Big Brother-style electronic tattoo that can be printed straight on to the body to track patients’ symptoms – measuring heart rate and temperature, strain and hydration – which is then transmitted to the doctor.  

The circuits are printed directly on to human flesh with a rubber stamp, which can then be covered with a spray-on bandage to form a protective coating.

The researchers say the major application would be the ability to monitor wound healing, with an electronic tattoo applied close to the surgical wound before the patient leaves hospital, allowing doctors to track the healing process remotely.

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