Northampton mental health hospital says '£250' offer to journalists to attend confidential meeting is not a bribe

St Andrew's Healthcare is offering journalists 20 to attend a round table discussion among other 'opinion leaders'.
St Andrew's Healthcare is offering journalists 20 to attend a round table discussion among other 'opinion leaders'.

Bosses of a Northampton mental health hospital that is offering journalists £250 to attend an off-record 'round table' meeting say the money is not a bribe.

St Andrew's Healthcare, which runs one of Europe's largest mental health facilities in Billing Road, is inviting 'opinion leaders' to an event in London tomorrow.

Attendees, which will include 'key' journalists from Sky News and the BBC will be offered a £250 'honorarium' to take part - on the basis that they sign a non-disclosure agreement.

But the health provider, which has recently faced serious questions over the way its high-needs young people are cared for in Billing Road, has dispelled any notion that the money is intended to influence the media following a period of negative press.

It says the £250 'honorarium' is "common practice" because the event is outside office hours and the non-disclosure agreement will allow for attendees to speak freely.

However, Sky News has said it will not attend the meeting on those terms.

A spokeswoman for St Andrew's said: "St Andrew’s Healthcare is seeking the help of relevant opinion leaders in providing views that will strengthen our approach to delivering against our charitable purpose of driving education, and de-stigmatisation, around mental health issues.

"This is an opinion-gathering event, not a media briefing.

"We are seeking a broad spectrum of views and expecting the opinion leaders to challenge us.

"It's common practice to ask participants in this kind of advisory board to sign a non-disclosure agreement and offer an honorarium in return for their time."

On March 28 a tweet by Sky News' health correspondent Paul Kelso discussing the event prompted a backlash on social media against St Andrew's.

Mr Kelso posted that St Andrew's was "offering journalists £250 to attend an 'advisory round table' with its CEO, at which they will have to sign non-disclosure agreements."

One of several negative comments suggested the round table was an attempt to "silence journalists".

In February, a watchdog report found St Andrew's had failed to meet the needs of three patients with complex needs - one of whom was kept in regular seclusion for 18 months.