NHS Tayside spent a six-figure sum on so-called “gagging orders” for employees over the past five years, according to new figures.
A total of £175,480 was spent since 2014 on staff compromise agreements, often known as non-disclosure termination contracts.
Such agreements are usually made to protect health boards against the publication of concerns or future claims.
The figures have been revealed shortly after the start of legal action by Munwar Hussain, who stepped down from his role as NHS Tayside “whistle-blower’s champion” in October 2018 shortly after reporting allegations of bullying of trainee doctors.
One junior doctor was said to have committed suicide, reportedly due to stress relating to the workplace culture — NHS Tayside says there is no evidence of this — while another claim centred on reports of “incorrect” dosages of drugs being given to patients.
However, NHS Tayside said the board has not entered into non-disclosure agreements with employees who have been whistle-blowers.
Conservative MSP Bill Bowman, an MSP for North East Scotland, claimed the amount spent on “gagging orders” would be enough to pay for seven trained ward nurses.
He said: “There have been recent questions about how the local board treats whistle-blowers.
“And across the UK there is an argument about whether these clauses are particularly helpful or effective.
“Use of these non-disclosure agreements means that it can be hard to figure out whether concerns are adequately addressed. The same person can’t complain again.
“Many are entered into without legal advice.”
In Tayside, the highest pay-out was in 2014 with a total of £96,907 spent on the orders, followed by £38,761 in 2016.
Nothing was paid out in 2017, but £15,000 was agreed up to the end of last year.
Last year, a Scottish Parliament enquiry found one-third of NHS Scotland employees were unwilling to speak up about their concerns.
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “NHS Tayside has not entered into a non-disclosure agreement with any member of staff who has been a whistle blower.”