Former hospitals boss ‘at liberty’ to raise safety fears

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An under-fire health trust has said the former chief executive it is accused of “gagging” is at liberty to talk about his safety fears at Lincolnshire hospitals.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust – which runs Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital among others – is currently one of 14 trusts across the country being investigated over higher than expected patient deaths in the wake of the mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal.

Last week its former chief executive Gary Walker broke the terms of a £0.5m “super-gag” he signed when he was dismissed from the trust to raise his concerns that meeting performance targets was given higher priority than patient safety.

He claimed his actions had resulted in a three-page “threatening” letter from the trust claiming it would pursue legal action against him for breaking the terms.

But a statement from United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust’s current chief executive Jane Lewington said a letter had been sent to Mr Walker.

Mrs Lewington said: “For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Walker is at liberty to talk about patient safety.

“This means he can raise and discuss any issues he may have – without fear of redress – at the forthcoming hearing of the Commons Health Select Committee, potential General Medical Council proceedings, or any other forum.

“This further reassurance is given in our Trust’s spirit of openness and transparency, which encourages all staff to raise issues about patient safety at any time.

“We hope that Mr Walker recognises it as a positive step, made in good faith.

“Our focus is on the quality and safety of the healthcare we provide for the people of Lincolnshire in 2013.”

Mr Walker left the trust in 2010 after he was dismissed for allegedly swearing in meetings.

He and his supporters claim he was fired after raising his concerns about patient safety but he was unable to speak out after signing a £0.5million confidentiality agreement.

He said he had no choice but to sign the agreement as he had lost his job and had a family to support, with no chance of a new job in the NHS, as he was blacklisted.

Phil Scarlett, a former non-executive director of the trust, who resigned in the wake of Mr Walker’s sacking, said he had been “very brave” to defy the gag to speak out.