Former United Lincolnshire Hospital trust boss breaks gagging order
A MAN formerly responsible for running health services in Louth has broken an NHS gagging order to speak out about his concerns over patient safety.
Gary Walker was sacked as chief executive of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) in early 2010 on grounds of "gross professional misconduct" for allegedly swearing in a meeting.
He claims he had no choice but to sign an agreement linked to a confidentiality clause in April 2011, adding it was a case of either signing the so-called "super gag" agreement or losing his house.
Nearly two years on, Mr Walker is the first former NHS employee to break the gag.It comes a week after Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry into the Stafford hospital scandal, demanded that such agreements should be "banned".
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Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Walker, 42, revealed that he and former trust board members claim the real reason for his dismissal lay in his refusal to hit Whitehall targets for non-emergency patients.
He says demand for emergency hospital beds in 2008 and 2009 became so acute that he felt he had no other choice than to abandon the 18-week Whitehall target for non-emergency cases.
ULHT is one of 14 hospitals in England currently being investigated for high deaths rates, in the wake of the Stafford hospital scandal, where hundreds are believed to have died after receiving poor care.
He said: "It's a simple decision: you have emergency care or you have care that could wait.
"It's not nice to wait but it could wait and therefore we chose as a board – it was not just me – that we should take priority – that emergency care should take priority."
Mr Walker warned senior civil servants that he faced the same dilemma that led to disaster in Mid Staffs.
But he claims that his immediate bosses at the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority (SHA) instructed him to hit the targets "whatever the demand" and then ordered him to resign when he refused to back down.
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 properly" in the "interest of patients"
.He added: "The SHA... initiated an investigation in April 2009 which looked at quality and safety in the Trust. A number of senior doctors and nurses formed part of the review team which interviewed patients and visitors, as well as a range of Trust clinical and managerial staff.
"The review confirmed that there appeared to be a lack of strategic direction at the Trust and that clinical governance arrangements were weak.
"The SHA worked closely throughout that period with commissioners and key regulatory bodies, but in the final analysis, the SHA had to take action in order to assure quality care for patients."
Following the recording of his interview with the Today programme, Mr Walker received a letter from solicitors representing the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.
The note from lawyers DAC Beachcroft said: "Having seen an outline of the issues, we have advised our client that if you have provided an interview or should this interview proceed you will be in clear breach of the agreement and as a result the Trust would be entitled to recover from you the payments made under the agreement and any costs including its legal costs."
Mr Walker has dismissed the note as a "threat".