Dorrell to Hunt: ''Don't gag whistleblower''
15 February 2013
The former health secretary and current chair of the health select committee Stephen Dorrell has written to the sitting Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to insist that no action is taken against the ex chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust Gary Walker, who has breached his confidentiality agreement with the NHS.
As we reported
, Walker was unhappy that patient safety was being compromised but was prevented from speaking out because of a standard NHS 'gagging' clause in his contract. He was sacked for, he claims, bogus reasons and later chose to go public with his concerns, even though the contract stipulated that even revealing that there was an agreement was a breach. The gagging clause also came with a £500,000 pay-off.
Walker claimed that the NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson ignored him when he told him of his concerns four years ago and he said Nicholson (who was CEO of the West Midlands Regional Health Authority when people were dying unnecessarily at Stafford Hospital) should resign. In a publicservice.co.uk poll
86 per cent of readers agreed.
Even more controversially, Walker also named the former head of the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority (SHA) Dame Barbara Hakin (now a director on the new NHS Commissioning Board), saying she put targets before patient safety and threatened him with the sack when he spoke out. The SHA has refuted the claims outright. Hakin – referred by some as the 'right hand woman' of Nicholson – is alleged to have personally stopped an inquiry into high death rates in the trust. The General Medical Council is looking into the issue.
Walker said: "I emailed Dame Barbara to set the agenda for the meeting the following day and I said I wanted to order a mortality review. When I met her, she didn't want to speak about it. She was incensed by my email. Her words were: 'You will have to go or your career will be in tatters'. If she had acted on my concerns, I believe fewer people would have died."
Dorrell didn't want Walker to be prevented from appearing in front of the health committee because of the 'gag'. And he told Hunt such clauses should not be used for stopping staff from highlighting patient safety concerns.
"The committee intends to write to Mr Walker to invite him to set out in detail the nature of the concerns which lay behind the breakdown of his relationship with the Lincolnshire trust," Dorrell wrote. "Before doing so, however, I would be grateful if you would confirm that neither the trust nor any other NHS body will seek to enforce any clause in Mr Walker's compromise agreement which would impinge on his capacity to respond fully to the committee's request."