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Hundreds of GPs gagged by CCG constitutions

Exclusive: Hundreds of GPs are being asked to sign legal agreements preventing them from speaking in public about anything related to their CCG.

The gagging clauses included in draft CCG constitutions, obtained by Pulse, forbid GP members from making any ‘public statement’ about the CCG or its member practices without first getting ‘prior consent in writing’.

The agreements from two CCGs – covering a total of 107 practices – would mark a shift in the independent status of GP practices, who are currently able to speak publically and to the media about PCT business.

It also comes after the NHS Commissioning Board urged CCG leaders to tie themselves to ‘comprehensive’ confidentiality clauses with private companies running commissioning support organisations to prevent details of contracts leaking out.

A Pulse analysis review of 18 constitutions found two CCGs – Oldham and Dorset – have inserted clauses banning any public statements by member practices. Basildon and Brentwood CCG’s constitution contains a similar clause, although it may now be removed after an objection from a GP.

The clause in Dorset CCG’s constitution reads: ‘None of the members [GP practices] or members of the governing body shall make or permit or authorise the making of any press release or other public statement or disclosure concerning the group or any of the members or members of the governing body without the prior consent in writing of the governing body.’

Oldham CCG’s constitution similarly forbids ‘the making of any press release or other public statement or disclosure concerning the CCG or any of the members without the explicit approval of the CCG governing body.’

A spokesperson for Dorset CCG said the clause would only be applied to ‘statements of a confidential nature’ and insisted: ‘We are not trying to stop GPs speaking to the media in general.’

Julie Daines, chief finance officer at Oldham CCG, said: ‘GP members should work in partnership with the governing body on any public messages.’

But GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said doctors should be ‘free to say what the hell they like’.

‘They [the CCGs] cannot gag member practices – don’t forget there are also duties on doctors to whistleblow. I think they need to rephrase their language.’

Dr Helena McKeown, a BMA and GPC council member, said GPs’ duty as doctors was to the GMC and that should ‘trump anything in a CCG constitution’.

She said: ‘It is up to individual GPs to decide whether they want to speak to the media and they should be able to change their CCG constitutions to reflect that’.