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MPs hear of 'bullying culture' in NHS

UK News | March 20, 2013


Ben Adams

MPs hear of 'bullying culture' in NHS

The Health Select Committee has heard about the bullying culture by a former NHS manager who was gagged by his former Strategic Health Authority. 

Gary Walker, formerly chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust chief, told the cross-party group of influential MPs that his staff had been forced to cancel 700 operations when hospitals were full of emergency cases in 2009.

He said he had to put Lincoln County Hospital on an emergency footing, or red alert, but felt pressurised by health executives.

He said the response from the health authority was “this is your problem - you need to meet the targets whatever the demand”.

“It is a very dangerous thing to be trying to push through targets when hospitals are dangerously over full,” he said, speaking in public for the first time.

Walker told the committee: “I got a phone call from [Dame] Barbara Hakin [former chief executive of the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority] saying ‘we’re about to approve £11 million of funding for your trust and that’s going to be very difficult while you’re on red alert’”.

Walker added that he prepared a presentation for the Department of Health about problems with hitting targets, but was ordered to remove any reference to him calling for a capacity review.

He said he was fired in 2010 for swearing in a meeting, and was asked to sign a ‘gagging clause’ by the East Midlands SHA in a deal worth £500,000.

His former hospital is now one 14 hospitals in England being investigated by the UK Government.

This comes a month after the Francis report into the higher-than-expected deaths at Staffordshire hospital between 2005 and 2008 blamed NHS managers and the regulator for doing enough to protect patient safety.

Nicholson gave ‘wrong information’ to MPs

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the NHS Sir David Nicholson has also been giving evidence to MPs about Mid Staffs Trust, which he oversaw during 2006.

In a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, Sir David said he had given “wrong information” while describing how he dealt with a Walker in 2009.

He insisted on Monday that Walker had not explicitly identified himself as a whistle-blower, or raised concerns about patient safety.

But appearing before the Health Select Committee on Tuesday morning, Walker rejected Sir David’s account.

He told the MPs: “I wrote to David Nicholson telling him everything that went on...I disclosed to him the threat to patients’ health and safety due to the fact that I was being forced to comply with targets, the threat to health and safety of patients due to SHA bullying members of the ULH staff, asking me to leave my post which is also bullying and intimidation and the various reviews that the health authority had carried out were biased and flawed.

“I asked for protection as a whistle-blower in that letter in the last paragraph and as I said, yesterday at the public accounts committee David Nicholson denied all of that.”

The Spectator reported this week that Tory MP Charlotte Leslie has written to Prime Minister David Cameron renewing her call for Sir David to go. As of this week, Sir David has the backing of the PM, but public and media pressure is still growing for him to resign, or be removed from the NHS’ top job.

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