Hospital bosses say they did not ‘gag’ chief executive as Jeremy Hunt wades in to safety row

News from the Boston Standard, Lincolnshire: bostonstandard.co.uk, on Twitter @standardboston
News from the Boston Standard, Lincolnshire: bostonstandard.co.uk, on Twitter @standardboston

Under fire hospital bosses say they have not stopped a former chief executive from raising concerns about patient safety in Lincolnshire.

United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust (ULHT) - which runs Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital - has come under national scrutiny after it was revealed that it would face an investigation over high death rates in light of the Stafford Hospital scandal.

The trust faced further attention when former chief executive Gary Walker spoke out over his concerns that he was asked to meet targets regardless of the cost to patient safety.

Mr Walker was said to have broken a ‘gagging order’ which barred him sounding the alarm about his concerns over patient safety and says he was threatened with losing his £500,000 pay off for speaking to the BBC.

That course of events widely criticised, including by health minister Jeremy Hunt on today’s World at One programme.

He told the BBC: “I have written to the chairman of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust to ask him why their first reaction when faced with this was to get their lawyers to send a letter rather than to get to the bottom of the patient safety issues that were raised.

He added: “I don’t think it’s acceptable, I think it was the wrong thing to do.”

Mr Hunt also attacked what he believes is a ‘culture of institutional self-preservation’ in the NHS.

In reaction to Mr Hunt’s letter, a ULHT spokesman said: “Allegations that ULHT has attempted to stifle debate about patient safety issues are incorrect.

“There never has been any such intention – nor will there be in future.

“Confidentiality clauses relating to Mr Walker concerned his employment dispute with the Trust.

“We can confirm that under the terms of our agreement with him, Mr Walker is able to raise any concerns about patient safety at ULHT.

“The trust has a clearly established culture of openness and transparency, and we encourage all staff to raise issues of patient safety at any time.”

This week has also seen the release of a number of letters which appear to show that doctors raised concerns that they were being ‘coerced’ into doing things that were unsafe.

The letters were released by Lincolnshire Independent councillors who want an urgent review into hospital care in the county.

The post-Stafford investigations were also discussed at Prime Minister’s Question Time this week.

When quizzed, David Cameron told the Commons: “It is important that we get to the bottom of any hospital having an unnaturally high mortality rate.

“It is also important that such inspections and investigations are carried out properly and that we all learn the lessons of the Mid Staffordshire inquiry report.”

ULHT insists patient safety has always been paramount and welcomed the invesigation into death rates announced this week.