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NHS Manager "gagged" from voicing concerns.



Gary Walker, former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust claims he had no choice but to sign an agreement that prevented him from speaking out about his concerns over patient safety. Walker was sacked as chief executive in 2010 on the grounds of “gross professional misconduct”, allegedly for swearing during a meeting.

He and former board members of the trust allege that a refusal to meet targets set by Whitehall for non-emergency patients was the reason for his dismissal.  In 2008-2009 he and the board made the decision to prioritise emergency care which meant failing to meet the 18-week waiting period for non-emergency care set by Whitehall.

Walker claims to have warned senior civil service servants that he faced similar dilemmas that led to the scandal of mid Staffordshire but he alleges that his bosses at the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority made him meet the targets “whatever the demand” and when he refused he was asked to step down.   

Mr Walker claimed unfair dismissal, which lead to a settlement being offered with a confidentiality clause included. Walker states he had no choice but to agree to the confidentiality clause or he risked losing his house. He claims that the use of so called “super gags” is widespread and said “I don’t see whistle-blowers being protected in the NHS at all. I know dozens of people who I can’t even talk to you about who because they are gagged…cannot speak out.”

The Department of Health responded by stating “We have consistently made it clear to the NHS that local policies should prohibit the inclusion of confidentiality “gagging” clauses in contracts of employment and compromise agreements which seek to prevent the disclosure of information which is in the public interest.”

Walker then received a letter from DAC Beachcroft, the solicitors for United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust. The letter stated “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.” A letter which he describes as a threat ,

He went on to say “This is a culture of fear, a culture of oppression- of information that’s either going to embarrass a civil servant or embarrass a minister.” 

Commenting on the news story, Richard Wood from CNCI said "Last week Robert Francis QC called for gagging agreements to be banned. His detailed report stressed the importance of honesty and transparency within the NHS. It is clear that there is a gulf between aspirations for the NHS and the day to day reality. It is to be hoped that the Mid Staffs report will lead to a change in culture that will benefit all NHS patients."