‘Please help me or I will die’: Schoolboy’s tearful plea to doctors as they gave him Calpol and sent him home – with meningitis that killed him
A schoolboy dying from meningitis burst into tears and begged hospital doctors to help him, a hearing has heard. Ten-year-old William Cressey was given Calpol and discharged with from Darlington Memorial Hospital after doctors decided he was suffering from a migraine.
Hours later his mother took him back to the ward, but by then he was beyond help.
Yesterday one of the nurses in charge of looking after the schoolboy appeared before the Nursing and Midwifery Council accused of misconduct.
Christopher Kirby, who is not implicated in the boy’s death, admits failing to carry out proper observations on William, and failing to record any observations in his notes.
But he denies a further allegation that when one of his colleagues pointed out the fact that William was having trouble closing his eyelids over his protruding eyes, he said: ‘Well you know what to do about that, don’t you?’.
According to the allegation the female nurse replied ‘No’, and Kirby said ‘Just don’t touch it’, before walking away.’
William’s mother Cheryl Cressey, who is now in her early 50s, said she repeatedly alerted doctors and nurses to her son’s deteriorating condition, but was dismissed as a ‘neurotic mum’ before her son died in 2005.
William had been admitted to the hospital on February 28, 2005, but by 9am the following day the decision had been made by the doctors to send him home.
Mrs Cressey told the hearing: ‘William’s eyes were seriously protruding and he was having difficulty in closing his lids over his eyes.
‘I told a nurse that his eyes were really causing him suffering and she went to senior male nurse, Christopher Kirby.’
Mrs Cressey said the nurse explained the situation to Kirby.
‘His reply was ‘Well you know what to do about that don’t you?’, she replied ‘No’, and he said ‘Just don’t touch it’, and then he walked away.’
Breaking down in tears, she added: ‘William heard this and said: “That was not very kind, was it mum?” ‘Tears rolled down his face.’
The mother said William had been in agonising pain and at one point, when asked by a nurse to rate it on a scale of 1-10, said 20.
Mrs Cressey said her son lay on the bed writhing in agony and vomiting but that doctors refused to accept that he had meningitis because he did not have a rash.
Hours before the schoolboy died he had begged doctors to save him, saying: ‘Please help me. Why won’t you help me? If you don’t help me, I am going to die. Please help me, I don’t want to die’.
After being kept in overnight, he was sent home on March 1 with Calpol and ibuprofen and a cardboard tray to be sick in.
He had seen five doctors in three days who were unable to diagnose and treat him.
William suffered a fatal fit and died later that day after his distraught mother took him back to the hospital.
Mrs Cressey said she repeatedly told doctors that she suspected meningitis but each time was ignored.
Kirby, who is attending the central London hearing, admits the record keeping and observation errors, but denies walking away from a colleague and telling her not to touch William’s eye.
Derek Zeitlin, for the NMC, told the panel that there was no suggestion that Kirby’s actions had caused William’s death.
Five-year-old girl who died of meningitis ‘was let down’ after being seen by two GPs in hours before she died
A five-year-old girl who died from meningitis had been seen by two GPs less than 48 hours before she died, an inquest heard today.
The doctors thought Kelsey Smart was suffering from viral gastroenteritis but in fact she had the deadly brain condition.
The schoolgirl died in hospital on February 28 last year, the hearing at Avon Coroner’s Court heard.
She had been examined by an out-of-hours GP on the night of February 26 and seen again the following morning by a doctor at her local surgery.
Three hours later Kelsey started fitting and was rushed to hospital where she later died. Her mother, Hannah Smart, told the hearing in a written statement that she was concerned that none of the doctors who examined Kelsey had considered meningitis.
‘We had a meeting with a senior doctor and the Orchard Medical Centre, a Dr Yates, who suggested that Kelsey had been let down by the doctors treating her,’ she said. These feelings are echoed by myself and my entire family.
‘I am concerned that at no point did any of the Frendoc staff or any staff at the GP surgery inform me about meningitis and what to look out for. I believe now that she had signs and symptoms pointing to meningitis.’
The inquest heard that Kelsey, from Kingswood, Bristol, had first starting feeling unwell on the night of February 25 and was vomiting hourly.
She was also tired and had developed a small pinprick rash on her abdomen and left upper leg. Mrs Smart said that by the following afternoon Kelsey was still unwell and she called Frendoc – an out-of-hours GP service in South Gloucestershire.
A doctor called back and having spoken to Mrs Smart told her to give Kelsey Dioralyte – a brand of rehydration medication – and if she could not keep that down to ring back.
When she was sick again Mrs Smart telephoned back and was told to bring Kelsey in.
Mrs Smart and her daughter were seen by locum GP Dr Jens Rohrbeck.
She told the inquest: ‘I showed Dr Rohrbeck the rash on Kelsey’s chin, tummy, chest and leg and he simply pressed the rash with his finger and said it was caused by the virus Kelsey had.
‘To me Dr Rohrbeck did not seem very interested in Kelsey or her illness. For a lot of the consultation he seemed to be staring at me looking blank as if he didn’t know what to do.
‘When I asked him what was wrong with Kelsey he said she had picked up a virus. He explained he would send us down to the hospital to be seen but this would be a four-hour waste of time.
‘He said it would be better for me to take Kelsey home and if she continued to be sick overnight I should take her to our family GP the next day. On the advice of Dr Rohrbeck I took Kelsey home.’
The following morning Mrs Smart rang her doctors’ surgery, The Orchard Medical Centre in Kingswood, asking for an appointment. Kelsey and her mother were seen by Dr Sarah Grant.
Mrs Smart said: ‘Kelsey sat on my lap during the consultation and Dr Grant took her temperature which was 37.8 degrees and listened to her chest.
‘While we were in the consultation room she was very agitated and she pulled a clump of hair out of her head. Dr Grant did not pass comment on this or suggest it was anything to worry about.
‘I again highlighted Kelsey’s rash which was still present in the various places on her body. Dr Grant prodded the rash with her finger and said it was linked to the virus. She said children often come up in rashes when they have a virus.
‘Dr Grant did seem to realise that I was very concerned about Kelsey and she told me to bring Kelsey back at 4pm if there was no change. All in all we were in the consultation room for about five minutes.’
By lunchtime Mrs Smart thought her daughter was suffering from appendicitis and decided to drive her to hospital. On route Kelsey started fitting and Mrs Smart pulled over and called an ambulance and she was rushed to hospital.
Emergency teams rushed Kelsey to the Bristol Children’s Hospital where she was treated with morphine and anti-inflammatories after doctors thought she may have had a stroke.
A neurosurgeon was brought in from neighbouring Frenchay Hospital to carry out an operation to try to remove fluid from the brain – but the disease had taken hold and Kelsey’s brain had swollen too much.
Hannah told the inquest: ‘She was connected to a life support machine. We were told the brain surgery had been unsuccessful and her brain had swollen so much she was brain damaged.
‘Leaving Kelsey in that hospital and knowing her heart was still beating was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.’
The Smart’s have donated their daughter’s organs to help others – her heart has been given to an eight-month-old baby, a three-month-old got her liver and many more will also benefit.
‘As a family we have been actively involved in fundraising for meningitis research since Kelsey’s death,’ said Mrs Smart, ‘we miss Kelsey every day and want as many positives to come out of her death as possible.’
Dr Rohrbeck told the inquest he saw Kelsey at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol and examined the rashes on her body but felt they were ‘very, very small and inconspicuous’ and combined with other symptoms pointed to gastroenteritis.
‘I was concerned that she did look pale,’ he said. ‘The last thing I did was offer Kelsey a drink of water. ‘She drank it and that reassured me that I could send her home with advice to call us back if she worsened or did not get better the next day.’
Questioned by Avon Coroner Maria Voisin, Dr Rohrbeck said that with ‘hindsight’ he would have sought further medical advice. ‘I thought I was dealing with viral gastroenteritis,’ he said. ‘I did not associate it with a meningitis rash. Personally I have never seen a case like this before.’
Dr Lisa Goldsworthy, a consultant in children’s emergency medicine at Bristol Children’s Hospital, said: ‘My feeling at the time and in hindsight was that by the time she had her fit and was less responsive, her brain had reached a critical level of swelling and the disease had taken hold.
‘With an hour-and-a-half of the ambulance taking her to hospital there was nothing to be done.’
Her colleague Dr Sara Hulme, a consultant in paediatric intensive care, told the inquest that had Kelsey been admitted to hospital earlier it was unlikely doctors would have been able to reverse the swelling to her brain.
Dr Grant told the hearing that she examined Kelsey but was reassured that the rash on the girl’s body was not getting worse. ‘I did think about meningitis as the cause of the rash but discounted that at the time,’ she said. ‘The one thing that made me think that was the fact that the rash did not seem to have progressed.
‘She had been seen 12 hours previously and a rash was detected. I think I was reassured that it did not seem to have got particularly worse over that time frame. I had a chat with mum and I booked a review appointment at 4pm the same day.’
Dr Grant said it was not unusual for a child to be seen by doctors repeatedly over a short period of time.
‘I think that if there was no improvement during the day I would have asked the children’s hospital to review her.’
Coroner Ms Voisin recorded a narrative verdict. She said: ‘I am mindful of Kelsey’s presentation when she was seen by each doctor. I am also mindful of the evidence of the two consultants from the children’s hospital.
‘It is clear from their evidence that earlier intervention is better but what cannot be said is whether earlier treatment would have resulted in a different outcome for Kelsey. Neither can we say exactly what would have happened if Kelsey had been admitted sooner.
‘So based on the evidence I consider the appropriate verdict to be a narrative verdict.’
The coroner said she would not be making any recommendations about preventing a similar tragedy from happening again in the future.
Rule 43 recommendations are made by coroner’s with the intention of preventing deaths and learning lesson from the cause of deaths.
‘During the inquest I have been mindful of Rule 43 but having heard the evidence from the GP, taking into account the information provided to the practice since this event and training that has taken place, I don’t think Rule 43 is appropriate,’ said Ms Voisin.
The great cancer betrayal: Number of treatments on approved list for patients is HALVED under NHS reforms
The number of cancer treatments available to patients has been halved on a new national list. The move – described as ‘alarming’ and ‘a step backwards’ by campaigners – could mean many new patients are unable to benefit from the Government’s flagship Cancer Drugs Fund.
The £200million-a-year idea, launched in April 2011, was intended to provide life-extending help for sufferers and has led to more than 25,000 patients in England getting drugs which are not available on the NHS because they are not approved by NICE, the rationing body. But the number of drugs available through the fund has now been cut from 50 to 27 by NHS England.
This means the number of cancers that can be treated has been cut from 129 to 65.
Some of the drugs have been cut from the list because they have been given the go-ahead by NICE in recent months and can now be prescribed normally by doctors.
But other treatments no longer approved include the pioneering radiation therapy given to surgeon Becky Smith, who fought to get it used routinely on the NHS after forcing her health trust into a funding U-turn over treatment for liver tumours. As a result, the treatment was approved by many regions making up the Cancer Drugs Fund.
But it emerged yesterday it has been omitted from a national list from NHS England, a new body headed by Sir David Nicholson, who has faced calls for his resignation over his role in the Staffordshire Hospital scandal.
Other treatments which have been removed from the list include a drug used for a wide range of blood cancers, as well as those used for leukaemia, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and brain cancer.
The blood cancer drug, Rituximab, was the fourth most frequently requested treatment through the Fund last year.
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, said: ‘This appears to be a clear step backwards for cancer patients in terms of access to drugs.
‘The list of cancer drugs which will be funded has been cut in half with no explanation. We are worried that this will restrict access to drugs which were previously routinely available.
‘The Government has questions to answer about this, and we will be writing to the Prime Minister to seek urgent clarification about this.’
Mr Wilson said he was concerned by the lack of transparency over how the new list was compiled. ‘Clinicians were supposed to be in the driving seat but the centralisation of this list suggests the opposite’ he added.
The Government’s aim, which was a Tory election pledge, was to enable NHS doctors to prescribe any drug if they believed a cancer patient could benefit. But the new list has slashed treatments available to new patients, even when as many as four out of 10 regional panels had approved their use.
A form of internal radiotherapy called SIR-Spheres used where bowel cancer has spread to the liver has been axed, even though previously available in the majority of regions. Around 500 patients a year could miss out as a result.
Other treatments which have been removed from the list include a drug used for a wide range of blood cancers, as well as those used for leukaemia, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and brain cancer
Other treatments which have been removed from the list include a drug used for a wide range of blood cancers, as well as those used for leukaemia, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and brain cancer
But Professor Peter Clark, head of the Cancer Drugs Fund, insisted patients would be better off, partly because some of the drugs dropped from the national list had been agreed for routine use.
Instead of having to get these drugs via the Cancer Drugs Fund with access that varied in different regions, doctors would be able to get them normally. He said: ‘Many more patients are going to be able access these drugs from this week than could have done last week..
‘We have not been levelling down we’ve been levelling up.’ He said doctors could apply on behalf of individual patients if a drug was not on the fast-track national list, but was unable to say how long the process would take.
Dr Jamie Mills, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Nottingham University Hospital said: ‘The expectations of clinicians are that new patients will be offered the same treatments as they would have been able to receive under the Cancer Drugs Fund.
‘It is simply unacceptable that patients are being denied these life-extending treatments. ‘The Cancer Drugs Fund is the only mechanism which ensures that NHS patients in England have routine access to cancer drugs and treatments and this must continue.
‘Any changes made must ensure that cancer patients continue to have access to drugs and treatments, including SIR-Spheres if recommended by their oncologist.’
Almost two thirds of cancer treatments considered by Nice (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) are rejected.
The future of the Cancer Drugs Fund has not been guaranteed beyond next January, when an estimated 16,000 patients could lose out each year.
The ‘alarming’ move has been condemned by a group of MPs led by Alan Meale (Lab) who blamed the Government for breaking its pledge that NHS reforms would not lead to renewed restrictions on cancer drugs.
They called on Ministers to urgently ensure cancer patients were not in a worse position.
Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said the list left many questions unanswered. He said ‘What we are concerned about is that these arrangements are temporary and only give bowel cancer patients limited breathing space.
‘We still need some assurance from Government that patients will continue to access the drugs that successfully treat the disease, beyond the end of the year.’
Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said doctors would still be able to make individual funding requests for patients even if the treatment is not on the national list.
But critics say the process for such requests has not yet been organised and patients could face delays when they may have only months to live.
Dr Duffy insisted the new list was a ‘national levelling up’ of the number of approved treatments. He said ‘This means more people will benefit. It is really important that we stretch every penny of the Cancer Drugs Fund so we get maximum benefit to the most people we possibly can.
“This is a step forward for the Cancer Drugs Fund. In recent weeks cancer specialists from across the country have been working together to agree one national list of approved fast-track drugs for the Cancer Drugs Fund, which will then allow more uniform access to treatment and reduce variation of prescribing across the country.
‘Having one consistent method for consideration of overall clinical benefit and funding means that all applications will be assessed by the same criteria.
Regional variation of the past is clearly not acceptable for patients. Clinicians can still apply for drugs to join the national list of approved fast-track cancer drugs.’
Family, not area, is key to a child’s education: Children with parents who spent extra year in education get better grades
“Family” is a very vague term to use in this context. “Inherited IQ” would capture the facts better
The positive impact a parent can have on a child’s education is more important than where they live, a new study suggests.
Growing up in an impoverished area is often blamed for holding back children academically.
But a report’s findings indicate it is the attitude towards education within their family unit that really matters.
The research involved two groups of disadvantaged children in cities across England, all of whom were waiting to move into social housing in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods.
One group moved in between one and three years before their Key Stage 3 tests at 14. The other started living there afterwards.
When their performance in the tests was measured, both groups had almost identical average scores.
Dr Felix Weinhardt, who conducted the research, said: ‘We have always tried to help the most disadvantaged children to get better life chances and one of the ways we thought we could do this is through housing policy.
‘But research now increasingly tells us that bad neighbourhood environments have no causal influence on these children’s school performances at all.’
The postdoctoral fellow in the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance added: ‘These two groups of students really get very bad grades – very similar to students who live in high-density social housing neighbourhoods and never moved.
‘This means that we definitely should think about ways to help them improve their school achievements but we cannot do it through housing policy.’
The paper – Neighbourhood Quality and Student Performance – considered whether living in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ could lead to a ‘locking-in of the disadvantaged into a poverty trap’.
A total of 2,094 children were followed. All were waiting to move with their families into neighbourhoods with at least 80 per cent of social tenants.
These areas are characterised by ‘very high unemployment and extremely low qualification rates, high building density, rooms over-crowding and low house prices’, the report said.
The people who live there are ‘more likely to be depressed, unemployed, cigarette smokers [and] obese’.
Dr Weinhardt used the average performance in the three core subjects – English, maths and science – and combined them to create an overall score with a maximum of 100.
The group that moved into the impoverished areas before their Key Stage 3 exam scored an average of 33. Those that moved in later managed just 33.6.
The data took into account variables such as ‘negative shocks’ that leave better-off families suddenly in need of social housing and other factors including ethnicity, free school meal status and previous test scores.
Dr Weinhardt concluded: ‘The main finding of this study is that early movers into deprived social housing neighbourhoods experience no negative effects on their school attainment relative to late movers.’
The paper is due to be presented today at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in London.
It is complemented by another study at the conference which links an increase in the minimum school leaving age with improved academic performance in the next generation.
The children of parents who spend one extra year in education typically achieve one grade higher in two GCSEs or two grades higher in one GCSE than other pupils, it found.
The research was based on the children of 19,966 people affected by the 1972 reform of the school leaving age from 15 to 16.
It will be of particular interest to Education Secretary Michael Gove, who is overseeing a rise in the leaving age to 17 this year and 18 in 2015.
Previous research has found those who remain in education of training until 18 earn more money, are healthier and are less likely to break the law.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘The research shows that where somebody lives is much less important than what they carry around with them.
‘This includes what their interests are, how much support they get from their parents and how much their parents care about good education – which they can provide directly to their child and by finding them a good school to go to.’
North Sea Fracking: Britain’s Next Energy Revolution?
A small oil drilling firm has announced its intention to develop offshore fracking in the central North Sea. Trapoil is working up plans that would extend the technology from its extensive use onshore in North America.
It claimed there could be more oil and gas from unconventional technology than all of the output so far produced from the North Sea.
Trapoil plans test drilling a well next year, if it can find a partner for the project.
The company said the well could be “game-changing”, if it could prove that oil will flow out of tight reservoirs at a commercial rate.
The fracking process involves using high-pressure liquid to fracture shale rock in order to release oil and gas.
In a statement accompanying its annual results, Trapoil said: “The amount of oil potentially held in tight reservoirs is equal to, or probably greater than, all of the oil produced to date from the UK North Sea.
“The possible prize is therefore substantial, but this asset is still very much in its infancy and we will need to perform a considerable amount of work before drilling may occur.”
The cost of “proof of concept” test drilling, targeted for 2014 and in partnership with Extract, is too expensive for a smaller drilling firm, so they would have to find a larger partner.
That reflects annual results for the London-based firm that are downbeat about the financial constraints smaller operators are facing.
It made a pre-tax loss of £10.8m last year. With its Athena field coming on stream last year, it had revenue of less than £2m, though that is expected to increase significantly during this year.
Trapoil had two discoveries last year, but recently announced its Magnolia prospect had been unsuccessful.
U.K. Independence Party finds its voice amid growing anti-immigrant wave
The American Left often see a wiser world on the other side of the pond. Will they adopt the trend below too?
For the United Kingdom Independence Party, defeat has never looked this much like victory.
After a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Commons was jailed on criminal charges, this struggling railroad town near the English Channel held a special election to pick his successor. The anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) took up the challenge, setting up offices next to a Turkish kebab shop and narrowly losing its bid to win its first elected seat in the British Parliament.
Its best-yet showing in a national race has, nevertheless, thrust into the national limelight a political movement that is part of a wave of anti-immigrant populism surging across Europe. The outcome of the Feb. 28 vote, coupled with national polls showing UKIP support at an all-time high, seemed to terrify Britain’s three traditional parties. In response, the Conservatives, the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats are suddenly tripping over each other in a race to see who can more closely echo the Independence Party’s hard-line pledge to get tougher on immigration.
UKIP’s ability to spark a policy stampede without even winning a seat in Parliament underscores the increasing capability of anti-immigrant forces to set the agenda amid Europe’s economic malaise. An issue at the core of the party’s platform is the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union to stem the tide of immigration — as an E.U. member, Britain is legally bound to allow the citizens of 24 other European countries to resettle here with few restrictions — which speaks to the concerns of a continent where a debt crisis and high employment are increasingly making foreigners the target of popular rage.
That fear is surging as countries including Britain, Germany and France prepare for new flows of migrants from two of Europe’s poorest countries — Bulgaria and Romania, whose citizens will win unlimited access to the E.U.’s labor market as of Jan. 1.
With concern growing that the Independence Party will poach more and more voters from the political right, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, last week announced a plan to make it tougher for recently arrived immigrants to claim welfare benefits. The government additionally announced a dramatic makeover of the U.K. Border Agency to deal more expeditiously — and harshly — with illegal immigrants.
Not to be outdone, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister from Cameron’s junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, announced his own plan to control illegal immigration. In a speech less than three weeks after the vote in Eastleigh, Clegg vowed to force visitors from countries with high numbers of visa violators to post a $1,500 bond — with the cash returnable only upon their departure from Britain.
At the same time, Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor Party, has offered a mea culpa for lax immigration policies during his party’s rule from 1997 to 2010, a period when net migration to Britain soared. In an apparent reference to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s campaign gaffe in 2010 — when the Labor leader was caught off camera describing an elderly white woman as “bigoted” for complaining about immigration — Miliband said: “It’s not prejudiced when people worry about immigration. It’s understandable. And we were wrong in the past when we dismissed people’s concerns.”
Although not wholly new — Britain’s top parties have for years been leaning toward tougher immigration policies— observers say the steps taken since the Independence Party’s surge have amounted to some of the most aggressive yet.
“There is no doubting the influence of UKIP is now being felt in our immigration debate, partly because the main parties have refused to have a debate about this before,” said Keith Vaz, a Labor Party lawmaker. “We should stamp out illegal immigration, but we also need to avoid an arms race between the parties as they react to UKIP support.”
With a debt crisis and deep austerity entering their fourth year, Europe is facing a period of record unemployment that has allowed unpredictable political forces to take root. By comparison to some of these unconventional movements — such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece — the U.K. Independence Party is relatively mild.
The party was founded in the 1990s by British politicians furious about London’s acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Today, the party is led by the spiffily dressed Nigel Farage — a savvy, speaks-in-sound-bites politician known for his dry sense of British humor. Although he is campaigning heavily for Britain to leave the E.U., his wife is a German national. Under his leadership, the party has largely avoided the racially and religiously tinged jabs against Muslim immigrants taken by, say, the Nationalists in France.
Rather, UKIP ascribes to a school of thought always just under the surface in Britain — that this is a nation that is culturally apart from Europe and has no business being part of that exotic world across the English Channel. Those sentiments have been exacerbated by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Europeans — mostly from the east — who over the past two decades have taken advantage of the E.U.’s open-borders policy to find jobs and resettle in Britain.
Tougher restrictions imposed by Cameron’s government have led to a decline in immigrant inflows — particularly of non-E.U. foreign students — since 2010. But Farage has tapped into a vein of thinking here that Britain’s answer needs to be more radical. Under pressure from his own party and an increasingly anti-E.U. public, Cameron has promised to hold a landmark referendum on Britain’s membership in the union by 2017 — a date that Farage says Britain must move up.
£14m bill for gagging axed public officials
Almost 5,000 council workers and civil servants have been gagged at taxpayers’ expense at a cost of up to £400,000 each.
Last month the Government banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that more than £18 million had been spent on silencing 600 staff.
However, the use of similar orders is widespread for departing employees across both local authorities and Whitehall [Whitehall is the London street in which most British government offices are situated], leading to accusations that ministers are being “hypocritical”.
In Whitehall, more than 200 civil servants and officials have signed compromise agreements in the past two years, at a total cost of £14 million. Officials said it was “standard practice” for them to include confidentiality clauses.
One of the biggest payoffs was made to Philippa Williamson, a former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office, who left on voluntary redundancy.
She received £462,000 and is thought to have signed a confidentiality agreement.
Local authorities have signed 4,562 compromise agreements with former staff, according to figures released under freedom of information laws. Most of them contain confidentiality clauses.
Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, said: “For too long, local government has made departing staff sign gagging orders, often with big pay-offs attached, away from the eyes of those who get left with the bill: the taxpayer.
“When leaving a job, councils and their employees need to part ways fairly. Giving out thousands in under-the-counter pay-offs to silence departing staff is not the way to achieve this.
“Councils have a responsibility to the public and transparency is at the heart of that.
“By shining a light on these activities and introducing new democratic checks and balances to stop gagging orders being abused we are helping councils improve accountability in local government.”
In Whitehall, hundreds of officials have been given “special severance payments” with Treasury approval. Officials say that most contain confidentiality clauses.
According to its most recent accounts, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has signed the agreements with 83 officials over the past two years, at a cost of £2.6 million.
The Treasury has signed agreements with 64 individuals at a cost of £2.5 million, although a source said only a “small number” involved confidentiality agreements.
The Department for Transport confirmed that it had signed 40 agreements in the past three years, all of which contain confidentiality clauses.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has signed 12 agreements containing confidentiality clauses at a total cost of £1.5 million.
The Ministry of Justice has signed 15 at a cost of £250,000, while the Foreign Office has spent £5.5 million on severance agreements in total.
Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP and member of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “These agreements are outrageous, they are using taxpayers’ money to shut people up. It reveals an approach and philosophy to the way the public service is run that is rotten to the core.”
The actual total for Whitehall is likely to be far higher. There are almost 400,000 civil servants, and many government departments do not publish figures on compromise agreements.
Jon Trickett, the shadow cabinet spokesman, said: “It is rank hypocrisy, ministers are telling others to stop doing something which is rife in Whitehall.”
Freedom of Information Act requests established that 256 councils in Britain signed compromise agreements with former staff between 2005 and 2010. Employment lawyers said the agreements almost always included confidentiality clauses. The number of confidentially agreements issued by councils rose sixfold from 179 in 2005 to 1,027 in 2010. Those subject to the orders range from social services whistleblowers to former executives who left with six-figure pay-offs. Brighton & Hove city council has signed the most, with 123 agreements. Bristol city council signed 121 compromise agreements, Coventry city council 114 and Bolton 107.
A total of 95 agreements were signed at Kent council, including one for Katherine Kerswell, the council’s former managing director, who was given a £420,000 payment after less than 20 months in the job. She is now the Cabinet Office’s director of Civil Service reform
In some cases, the agreements have been used to try to silence whistleblowers. Martin Morton, a social services manager at Wirral borough council, went to his superiors in August 2006 after receiving disturbing reports that some council care services were being run by criminals. Four men with baseball bats were reported to have demanded money from one care home manager. There were also allegations that vulnerable patients had been raped and people with learning disabilities were being routinely overcharged. He subsequently signed a £45,000 compromise agreement after being ignored, isolated and bullied.
Mr Morton, however, refused to keep his silence. After going public with his allegations, the council admitted that it had overcharged 16 adults with learning disabilities more than £500,000.
An official report commissioned by the council confirmed many of Mr Morton’s concerns. One of the carers had a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, and the rape allegations were passed to police. Mr Morton said: “These gagging orders have a chilling effect. I was terrified about speaking out, I didn’t know what the consequences would be.”
A spokesman for the council said it had apologised to Mr Morton and admitted that it handled the claims “badly”.
The widespread use of gagging orders by local authorities was uncovered using freedom of information requests by Paul Cardin, who was silenced by a council. Mr Cardin, a former lighting engineer at Cheshire West and Chester council, was barred from even making freedom of information requests under the terms of his compromise agreement.
Britain’s Justice Secretary asks: How have things gone so badly wrong?
By Chris Grayling
Britain has always been a good citizen in the world. We rightly provide a safe haven for people fleeing political persecution by brutal regimes. Our legal system is often seen as a beacon for the rest of the world, with people coming from all over to study it and embed its principles into their own systems.
So how have things gone so badly wrong with the human rights issue? When Britain cannot deport a man, Abu Qatada, who so obviously despises what we stand for? And who belongs to an ideology that would like nothing more than to do real harm to our society?
All too often politicians sign treaties in a hurry, without reading them properly, and without understanding where they will lead. The Human Rights Convention was written by Conservatives in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was designed to combat the risk of another Holocaust, and to try to stop people being sent to prison camps without trial.
In almost 50 years, the European Court of Human Rights considered only around 800 cases. It was a sensible, advisory body. Then in 1998 everything changed. Those who ran it wanted more power, and Tony Blair and other European politicians just gave it to them. And Blair wrote European human rights law into our own statute book as well.
Since then things seem to have gone mad. The court now has 133,000 outstanding cases and is hopelessly overwhelmed.
It is imposing new rules in areas that its founders would never have believed had anything to do with human rights, such as allowing prisoners to use artificial insemination.
Abu Qatada so obviously despises what we stand for and who belongs to an ideology that would like nothing more than to do real harm to our society
Why can we not deport Abu Qatada, who so obviously despises what we stand for and belongs to an ideology that would like nothing more than to do real harm to our society?
It is demanding that countries including Britain override the will of their Parliaments, and make changes like giving votes to prisoners.
Our own judges increasingly take the verdict of the human rights court as setting the rules that they have to follow. But it is much too easy to say it is their fault. Their job is to implement the law as they see it. If the law is wrong, it is for politicians to sort it out.
The problem is that those politicians, particularly Tony Blair in 1998 and Gordon Brown subsequently, casually surrendered our ability to do so by signing treaties that amounted almost to a blank cheque for others to make our laws.
All that has to change. I think we have given up far too much of our own sovereignty. We have given up too many of our own democratic rights. We need to reverse the changes.
That is what has happened in the EU too. Gordon Brown signed the Lisbon Treaty without even reading it properly. It gives those in Brussels enormous power to drive towards ever closer union, even though there is less and less of a mandate to do so.
That is the trouble with treaties that are not about a fixed concept, but give others power to make more and more rules without us being able simply to say no.
But there is a barrier to change. There are 303 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, and more than 340 Labour, Lib Dem and other MPs. And almost all of the other parties are opposed to change that Conservative ministers and MPs want to see.
I would bring forward reforms in this Parliament and not the next. But we don’t have the votes to bring that business to the House and then deliver it.
It’s maddening, but it’s democracy.
I don’t personally understand why the other parties are so opposed to change, to bringing back the democratic rights of Parliament. I would welcome an agreement from Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to support radical reform of our human rights laws. We would deliver those changes at the earliest possible opportunity.