Hunt criticises health trust over whistleblower
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has criticised a hospital trust’s actions after a gagging order was broken to elevate concerns about patient safety.
Gary Walker, a former chief executive at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, broke the order when he was interviewed by the BBC.
Lawyers for the trust then warned him he must repay £500,000.
Mr Hunt said the trust must have been targeting the troubles raised, not heading straight for the lawyers.
“i’ve got written to the chairman of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust to invite him why their first reaction when faced with this was to get their lawyers to send a letter instead of to unravel the patient questions of safety that were raised.
He told the area at One on BBC Radio 4 that: “i don’t believe it’s acceptable, i suspect it was the incorrect thing to do.”
He attacked a culture of “institutional self-preservation” in parts of the NHS.
Gary Walker said he had no choice but to sign an agreement associated with a confidentiality clause in April 2011. He was sacked in 2010 for gross professional misconduct for allegedly swearing in a gathering.
He said he was gagged by the NHS from speaking out about his dismissal and his concerns over patient safety.
Mr Walker told the BBC that demand for emergency hospital beds in 2008 and 2009 became so acute that he felt he had no other choice than to desert the 18-week Whitehall target for non-emergency cases.
ULHT is one in every of 14 hospital trusts in England currently being investigated for prime death rates, within the wake of the Stafford hospital scandal, where hundreds are believed to have died after receiving poor care.
He said: “It is a simple decision: you’ve emergency care otherwise you have care which could wait.
“It is not nice to attend however could wait and therefore we chose as a board – it was not only me – that we should always take priority, that emergency care should take priority.”
He said the message from the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority was to hit the targets “regardless of the demand” and that he was ordered to resign when he refused to backpedal.
A spokesman for the SHA said it “totally refuted” Mr Walker’s allegations, describing them as “unfounded”. The spokesman said the SHA had always acted “appropriately and correctly” within the “interest of patients”.
After the BBC interview, Mr Walker was threatened with legal action for breaching the terms of a package reported to be worth £500,000.
A note from lawyers DAC Beachcroft said: “Having seen a description of the flaws, we now have advised our client that when you’ve got provided an interview, or should this interview proceed, you are going to be in clear breach of the agreement.”
It said that, hence, “the Trust could be entitled to get over you the payments made under the agreement and any costs including its legal costs”.
The health secretary said he didn’t want to make a judgement about Mr Walker’s claims but there have been “a variety of very serious allegations that we have to unravel”.
He said this is able to become a test case for other “gagged” NHS employees, but said he didn’t understand how a lot of these orders were in place.