Health boss’s £500,000 gag branded ‘scandalous’ by group campaigning against Grantham Hospital cuts

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The Trust which runs Grantham Hospital has been accused of putting targets before patient safety.

It has been a torrid week for health authorities in Lincolnshire

First United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust was named on a list of trusts being investigated for high mortality rates after an investigation was launched in the wake of the Staffordshire Hospital scandal.

On Wednesday county councillors with the Lincolnshire Independents group released letters from hospital staff including a surgeon and a clinical director suggesting that hitting targets was putting the health of patients at risk.

And yesterday the Trust’s former chief executive broke his gagging order - believed to have come at a cost of £500,000 - in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Walker said “It’s a simple decision. You have emergency care or you have care that could wait and therefore we chose, as a board, that emergency care should take priority.

“What happened at Mid Staffordshire Hospital was they did not take that view. Their view was that they were going to pass the pressure down from the Department of Health, from the strategic health authority, to the people at the coal face so they would be under a lot of pressure, they would make mistakes and we as a board and I were not prepared to allow that to happen.”

Mr Walker said he came under pressure as a result of putting patient safety first, saying he must “meet targets, whatever the demand”.

Mr Walker added: “That pressure is wrong. That’s a dangerous thing to be saying in a situation where the hospitals are so full that you just don’t have any beds.”

Mr Walker was sacked in 2010 after allegations he swore in a meeting. On the eve of an employment tribunal he signed the gagging order.

Mr Walker said: “I was about lose everything. Sometimes you don’t want to sign but you don’t have a choice.”

Phil Scarlet resigned as a non-executive director at ULH NHS Trust over concerns about how Paul Richardson, chair of the trust, was running the organisation. He is calling for Mr Richardson to resign.

Mr Scarlet said: “It is shocking that ULHT spent £0.5m on gagging its former chief executive who raised concerns about safety.

“This money was intended for patient care but instead it is being used to suppress around 3,000 pages of documents.”

Charmaine Morgan of campaign group SOS Grantham Hospital said she fully supports Gary Walker but was incredulous at the amount of money spent to silence him.

“I think it’s absolutely shameful and scandalous. Whoever made that decision needs to be held to account.

“We have been asking for a consultant-led team at Grantham and that money would have paid for that, or gone a long way to paying for that.”

A spokesman for United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Patient safety remains the top priority for United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust and this means that our focus is to provide safe, high quality care at the same time as meeting our patients’ expectations.

“We have made significant improvements in all areas of patient safety in the last two years and this is demonstrated by recent inspections carried out by the Care Quality Commission which are expected to show only minor concerns compared to 14 major, moderate and minor concerns raised in 2011.”

East Midlands Strategic Health Authority denies instructing Mr Walker to hit targets “whatever the demand”.