Former hospital chief executive Gary Walker has told MPs he was threatened and removed from his job in a row with then health authority boss Dame Barbara Hakin.
Mr Walker told the Commons committee today that Dame Barbara had in 2009 met him in a hotel reception and told him he had to resign from his job with United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.
Mr Walker was appearing alongside former United Lincs chair David Bowles to answer questions about their claims that patient safety was put at risk – at that Mr Walker was gagged – by regional and national NHS management.
During the time they were at United Lincs, from 2006 to 2009, Dame Barbara was NHS East Midlands chief executive. She has since been appointed national director for commissioning, and earlier this month was made interim deputy chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board.
Mr Walker said of the events in 2009: “She said if I didn’t leave, my career would be in tatters.” Mr Walker said Dame Barbara had told him he had to tell his chairman David Bowles he had decided to leave himself.
Mr Walker told MPs that, ahead of his employment tribunal, Dame Barbara had accepted that conversation had taken place. “She said constructing the story was to protect me,” he said.
He described various contacts between himself and the strategic health authority.
Mr Walker said United Lincs had repeatedly tried to raise concern that it had insufficient capacity to meet demand, but was told it must “meet the targets regardless of demand”.
He said at one stage - when he had signalled the trust was on “red alert” due to excess demand - he received a call from the SHA saying the trust had “embarrassed the SHA in the eyes of health minister Ben Bradshaw and the Department of Health had been informed and I would get into some kind of trouble for this”.
In another conversation, Mr Walker said, Dame Barbara told him she “wouldn’t be able to protect him” if the trust didn’t meet targets.
“As the hospital became more and more full, more threats were made,” Mr Walker told the committee.
NHS East Midlands and Dame Barbara have denied many of the allegations in the past. The SHA issued a statement today following the hearing which argued Mr Walker had not “raised patient safety concerns as a whistleblower”.
It said: “It was NHS East Midlands… which was concerned about patient safety at the trust. It was the SHA which commissioned a series of reviews into the systemic problems at the trust.”
The statement said the trust’s problems at the time included “failure to meet national standards” for accident and emergency and elective waiting times; excess Clostridium difficile infections; and underperformance against two key national cancer standards.
Meanwhile, Sir David Nicholson has been forced to write to MPs to correct comments he gave in relation to sacked hospital chief executive during evidence to the Commons public accounts committee on Monday.
The NHS chief executive today wrote to the committee to make what has been described as “a factual correction”. He told the committee that Mr Walker, in a letter to Sir David, had not identified himself as a whistleblower.
Today, after checking the correspondence, Sir David has written to the committee chair Margaret Hodge and Conservative MP Steve Barclay making clear this was wrong, and in fact Mr Walker did ask to be considered as a whistleblower.
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In Mr Walker’s letter sent to Sir David in July 2009 (attached, right) he made clear he was making “protected disclosures” and asked that the letter be considered in the context of the Department of Health’s whistleblowing policy.