Health Minister Poulter in Lincoln: ‘Gagging clauses are completely unacceptable’

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter visited Lincoln County Hospital on Thursday and spoke about the United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust’s part in the high mortality rates investigation and condemned gagging former health executives.

ULHT is one of 14 trusts in the country that are being investigated for higher than expected mortality rates, and the Health Minister said the review will be concluded by the summer.

Speaking to The Lincolnite, Dr Dan Poulter said: “There are a few things I have picked up on today that I will feed into those investigations.

“Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS Medical Director who’s taking on board those investigations, is going to 14 trusts, [ULHT] being one of those trusts. It’s about looking at what factors there may be that caused the higher than expected mortality ratios, and there may well be factors there that were well out of the hospitals’ control.

“For example, what are local palliative care facilities like, are people getting the support in the community that they need when they are coming towards the end of their life, and if not, they are having to come and die in hospital, then that drives mortality ratios. That review is going to be ongoing and will conclude by the summer.”

Earlier this week, former ULHT CEO and whistleblower Gary Walker and former trust chairman David Bowles gave evidence as part of the Mid Staffs NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry by the Health Select Committee.

Gary Walker and David Bowles described to the panel their time at ULHT, and the problems the trust faced, particularly in 2008, explaining how he was intimidated into leaving his post, and that he agreed to a gagging order compensation worth £225,000.

“As a government we make it very clear that gagging clauses are completely unacceptable,” said Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter.

“Of course you’re sometimes going to have to have confidentiality clauses where there are issues of commercial sensitivity or patient data, but it’s never acceptable to try to gag staff from speaking out on issues about patient care. We’ve made that very clear as a government, a number of the issues happened in the previous government, but our line is [gagging orders] are completely unacceptable.”

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney accompanied the Health Minister on Thursday on his visit in Lincoln, as part of a tour of several hospitals in the East Midlands, including Newark and Grantham.

Karl McCartney said: “When we look at what’s been happening with Gary Walker, and when he spoke at the Health Select Committee, along with David Bowles, I think there’s real serious issues that need to be addressed that haven’t.

“I wrote to the chairman of the Health Select Committee and I listed a number of people I felt should be invited to talk to the committee — and that involves the previous health ministers who I think will have overseen what happened to Gary Walker — who have some serious questions to answer.

“As someone elected to represent my constituents, it’s something that concerns me and I want to know what’s being to make things better, and also who’s going to be disciplined to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes they have potentially made previously. I think that goes across the whole spectrum of different issues, not just in the health service,” Karl McCartney added.