Concerns on patient safety at trust ‘ignored’

NHS boss Sir David Nicholson was warned four years ago about problems at a trust which is being investigated for persistently high death rates, a whistleblower has claimed.

Gary Walker, who was sacked in 2010 as chief executive of United Lincolnshire hospitals trust, said Sir David ignored him when he raised concerns about patient safety in 2009.

The trust is one of 14 being investigated by health chiefs over high mortality rates in the wake of the report into serious failures at Mid Staffordshire trust.

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Mr Walker, who spoke out in defiance of a legal gag, claimed Sir David was “not interested in patient safety” and called on him to resign.

He said: “I warned him that Lincolnshire was going to become the next Mid Staffordshire. He didn’t investigate those concerns, and now look what’s happened.”

Mr Walker was sacked in 2010 for gross professional misconduct over alleged swearing at a meeting. He claims he was forced to quit for refusing to meet Whitehall targets for non-emergency patients and was then gagged from speaking out as part of a settlement deal.

Former Bradford GP and Yorkshire health chief Dame Barbara Hakin, who was then head of the East Midlands strategic health authority (SHA) and is now national director for commissioning development at the NHS Commissioning Board, ordered him to meet the national targets regardless of demand, he alleges.

“The pressure I came under from Barbara Hakin specifically was, and I quote, ‘to meet the targets whatever demand’,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That is a dangerous thing to be saying in a situation where the hospitals are so full that you just don’t have any beds for most of the day.”

A spokeswoman for the East Midlands SHA said it “totally refuted” the allegations.

“During her tenure as SHA chief executive, Dame Barbara acted at all times in the interest of patients, ensuring that they received high quality and safe services,” she said.

In a review ordered in April 2009, it found a “lack of strategic direction at the trust and that clinical governance arrangements were weak” and had taken action “in order to assure quality care for patients”.