A WHISTLEBLOWER who exposed a catalogue of errors surrounding the deaths of 20 patients in a health board area is taking his campaign to scrap NHS gagging orders to the Scottish Parliament.
Former psychiatric nurse Rab Wilson, who revealed the mistakes at his former employer NHS Ayrshire and Arran, will appear before the petitions committee tomorrow to challenge what he describes as a "culture of fear" in the health service.
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He will urge MSPs to support his campaign to axe confidentiality clauses from the compromise agreements paid out to departing NHS staff which prevent them from airing concerns about patient care or potential wrongdoing.
Some 697 compromise agreements have been paid out to former NHS employees over the past five years, at an average cost of £29,000 per payout, or £20.2 million in total. Most come with built-in gagging orders.
Mr Wilson said: "There shouldn't be gagging clauses at all. Workers should be free to talk about anything they like as long as it's true. Workers are supposed to be able to speak out despite gagging clauses under 'protected disclosure' rules, which apply in circumstances such as where patient safety may be at risk or if they believe the organisation would cover something up, but in the last five years there have been only four cases where the 'protected disclosure' has been applied. That's not right.
"You have to ask, why are people being gagged? A gag only protects the employer.
"But people are terrified of raising concerns because they then become the victim."
Mr Wilson added that recent initiatives such as anonymous whistleblowing helpline for NHS staff had been "pretty useless".
He said: "From what I've heard, anyone who phones up usually finds they are referred back to their employer. It's a bit like Mrs Hen phoning up to complain that her chicks are being eaten by foxes raiding the coup, and she gets referred on to Mr Fox."
Mr Wilson, of New Cumnock, won a five-year battle in February last year for Ayrshire and Arran to release all its serious incident reports back to January 2005.
He had first requested them via Freedom of Information in late 2006 following an incident where a patient absconded from the hospital where Mr Wilson worked. The health board initially said there were no reports but a successful appeal to Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion revealed 56 such documents on the disk drive of a member of staff who had been absent from work, leading to the disclosure of the circumstances surrounding 20 patients' deaths.
Robin McAlpine, director of the left-wing think tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, is backing Mr Wilson's petition which recently highlighted the hostility to public sector whistleblowers. He said: "People don't feel there is sufficient support for whistleblowers. The thing about large, centralised public sector organisations is there's tendency for them to want to protect themselves instead of what they should be doing - to prioritise protecting citizens."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "It is vitally important that all NHS workers feel that they can raise any concerns they may have safely and confidentially."