London: A former NHS hospital chief turned whistleblower has been paid £500,000 (Dh2.8 million) in a ‘supergag’ deal to prevent him discussing his concerns about patient safety.
Gary Walker said he was asked to “compromise the safety of patients in order to achieve government targets” at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust where he worked.
Last night, an MP compared the situation to the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Trust where up to 1,200 patients died “unnecessarily” because of the focus on targets. Tory MP Stephen Phillips said he suspected there has been a scandal of “similar proportions” at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.
Campaigners are now calling for the government to stop the NHS using taxpayers’ money to gag whistleblowers and hush-up embarrassing claims which are in the public interest.
Walker, 42, was sacked from his £140,000-a-year post in February 2010 after allegations that he swore in meetings, but his supporters claimed it was a trumped-up charge.
They said that prior to his dismissal, the chief executive — who rescued the Trust from £24.5 million debts — had a serious disagreement with his superiors over the direction of health policies.
He took his employers to a tribunal to claim unfair dismissal, but signed a deal with the Trust before the hearing was due to begin in April last year. The tribunal judge had already found evidence Walker had made disclosures about patient safety, which were protected under whistleblowing laws.
The patient mortality rate at the Trust, including the rate for emergency admissions, was above the expected rate for the last three years, according to an independent analysis.
Walker’s supporters told the Daily Mail the Trust paid him “hush money” to prevent the public discovering that senior clinicians had raised concerns about risks to patients.
It described the deal with Walker as “amicable”, but sources say he was forced to sign or lose his house because of mounting legal fees and his lack of income.
Now it is claimed the “supergag” deal included a £320,000 payment, plus funding of legal costs and a confidentiality clause.
The clause prevents Walker talking about the agreement and his complaints about the Trust, which his supporters say are in the public interest.
Last night, Phillips said he had written to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asking for all documents relating to the issue to be released. The MP wrote: “You are well aware of the Stafford Hospital scandal in relation to which we await the final report of the public enquiry.
“The documents which I have seen give rise to at least the suspicion there has been a scandal of similar proportions at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.”
He said this was due to targets which have “a detrimental effect on patient safety” and argued Walker was sacked for putting patients before “bureaucratic box ticking”.
Walker has not commented on the gagging clause, but said previously: “This is not about money, it is about a principle that patients come first.” He also took to Twitter this month to write: “So many whistleblowers gagged by bad people using public money to protect their careers.”
David Bowles, a former chairman of the same Trust who resigned in 2009 over NHS targets, said he had also received a gagging letter after being called as a tribunal witness.
He said: “The real question is if you sack somebody and you don’t pay them off, why do you spend £500,000 trying to cover up what they have to say?”
Campaigners Patients First called for the Government to prevent the NHS silencing whistleblowers at taxpayers’ expense.
The United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust said: “The comments that have been raised refer to a situation more than three years ago and all organisations involved have moved on.”