Hospital boss defies gagging order to voice fears

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A former health service boss has broken a £0.5million gagging order to speak out about hospital safety fears.

Gary Walker was given the “super gag” in April 2011 following his dismissal from United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust in early 2010.

Supporters, including non-executive director Phil Scarlett, claimed Mr Walker had been dismissed because he had raised concerns about patient safety at Lincolnshire’s hospitals, including the Pilgrim in Boston.

Mr Scarlett, who is president of Spalding and District Area Chamber of Commerce, resigned over Mr Walker’s sacking and has praised his “bravery” for speaking out in defiance of the gag at a time when the trust is to be investigated over patientdeath rates.

It was announced last week that United Lincolnshire was one of 14 trusts whose death rates would be looked into in the wake of the mid-Staffordshire scandal.

Mr Scarlett said: “I spoke to Gary the night before he went public with his concerns and he was very, very nervous.

“He had originally signed the confidentiality clause because he feared if he didn’t he could lose his house and he had a family to think about, but he has taken legal advice and obviously feels that now is the right time to speak out – despite receiving a three-page letter from the trust threatening him with legal action – and that letter really wasn’t pulling any punches.

“I think he is very brave but in light of the investigation I think he felt it was a case of speak out now,or keep quiet forever and he felt strongly about the truth being known.”

The hospital trust’s official line about Mr Walker’s dismissal was that it was on the grounds of “gross professional misconduct” for allegedly swearing in a meeting.

But he and supporters say the real reason lay in his refusal to hit Government targets for non-emergency patients.

Mr Walker said in 2008 and 2009 demand for emergency hospital beds became so acute he felt he had no other choice than to abandon the 18-week target for non-emergencies.

He said: “It’s a simple decision, you have emergency care or you have care that could wait. It’s not nice to wait but it could wait and therefore we chose as a board – it was not just me – that we should take priority – that emergcny care should take priority.”

But he claims his immediate bosses at East Midlands Strategic Health Authority (SHA)instructed him to hit the targets “whatever the demand” and then ordered him to resign when he refused to back down.”

A spokesman for the SHA said it “totally refuted” Mr Walker’s allegations and had always acted in the “interest of patients”