The Department of Health plays a key role in vetting severance payments to NHS staff, including money offered to whistle-blowers, the BBC has revealed.
The news comes as health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently warned health managers not to gag genuine whistle-blowers amid the fallout from the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal. The department had said it took no part in drawing up the ‘gagging’ clauses in compromise agreements.
But it has now confirmed that since 2005 it has vetted all proposed special severance payments to NHS staff.
The DH revealed that its officials had approved more than 400 severance payments in the last five years, but it said it did not know how much of the money may have been tied to so-called gagging clauses, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s Andrew Hosken reported.
Since April 2008, it received 578 applications for the special payments from NHS trusts in England, rejecting 171 or 30%. It submits the applications to the Treasury for final approval.
The BBC’s Andrew Hosken said few people appreciated the central vetting role played by the DoH, believing it was mainly an issue between local trusts and individual staff members.
The DH said there had been a significant fall in the number of approved severance payments. Since April 2010, the department had rejected half of the 171 submissions for money it had received from trusts.
The spokesman added: ‘The department’s role in this process is to ensure that public money is being used appropriately.’
Continuing on the Mid Staffs theme, Sir David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, appears before MPs today on the health select committee amid intense pressure from politicians and campaigners for him to resign over his role in the scandal, writes The Telegraph.
Sir David was the head of the strategic health authority charged with overseeing the hospitals in Mid Staffordshire.
Up to 1,200 people may have needlessly died at Stafford Hospital as a result of poor care, the Francis inquiry recently concluded, but despite the report none of the managers who oversaw the hospital have been sanctioned or punished.
Sir David has apologised over the scandal but has resisted pressure from backbench MPs and relations of the victims for him to resign.
Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, has called for Sir David to resign and take responsibility for the ‘diabolical’ situation at Mid Staffs that developed ‘under his watch’.
Miss Leslie has tabled a Commons early day motion calling for him to ‘face consequences’ for the scandal.
It has now been signed by 20 MPs, however, Miss Leslie said she has the support of a further 22 MPs, including Nick de Bois, the influential Tory backbencher.
‘What we all value and love about the NHS is not a system, it is the great professionals who work in it – who go the extra mile, and who are desperate to speak out when things are wrong. We must put those people at the heart of our NHS, not a system of stifling the truth,’ she said.
To finish on a more upbeat theme, a leading scientist who won the Nobel prize for discovering HIV has said a cure for AIDs now ‘might be possible’.
Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi was speaking after the announcement of the apparent cure of an HIV-positive baby in the US.
‘We are now in a position that we have evidence suggesting a cure might be possible. We have to stimulate funding for research into cures.
‘It’s ongoing, and it will take time, but more and more data is indicating that we have to move forward and work on a cure.’
The professor said that while antiretroviral drugs had been successful in helping people to live normal lives while infected, it was also important to try to find more permanent solutions to the disease. It still affects 100,000 people in Britain and 30 million worldwide.
Professor Barre-Sinoussi said: ‘What we have today is wonderful progress, but we have to consider other solutions for the future. It’s wonderful to have antiretrovirals today. But if we can improve so that people’s treatment can stop, that would also be wonderful for the patient, and for the budget of the Government.’