Gagged, smeared, sued and threatened by the NHS – a media whistleblower tells his story

Press Gazette   Dominic Ponsford    3 December 2015

A former hospital executive who blew the whistle to the BBC over concerns about patient safety has revealed that he remains blacklisted by the NHS two years on.

Gary Walker broke a gagging order in order to raise concerns about Lincolnshire NHS Trust in 2013.

Speaking at this week’s British Journalism Awards he revealed how he was punished by the NHS for speaking out.

He revealed that he agreed to break a gagging order imposed as part of his exit agreement when he was sacked from his NHS job in 2010 after “unrelenting persistent persuasion” by Andrew Hosken of the BBC.

He said: “It was February and I’d just watched the prime minster in the House of Commons announce the results of Sir Robert Francis’ review into what went wrong at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

“That review, which took two years and cost more than £19m of taxpayers’ money, didn’t find a single person accountable for the premature deaths of hundreds perhaps thousands of people.

“From my time in the NHS, I knew it was custom and practice for those in senior roles to hide their wrongdoing or incompetence by gagging those who attempted to speak out.

“I myself was an example of someone gagged for putting patient safety ahead of targets. Indeed the gag was so draconian I wasn’t even allowed to mention it existed.”

He said that when Hosken went to the NHS for comment he received a legal letter threatening to sue him for £500,000.

The story went across the media and ultimately led to a ban on NHS gagging orders.

Walker said the initial NHS response was “to smear me as much as possible but as they had no evidence and because you are professionals no one ran their tall tales”.

He added: “My personal story continues today as I remain blacklisted from the NHS and find getting work very difficult. That is I’m sad to say the plight of most whistleblowers whether they win or lose their cases in court. They are seen as the troublemakers.”

Walker issued a plea for whistleblowers like himself to be protected.

He said: “Being able to protect your sources is the cornerstone of investigative journalism and the attempts by the state to change that is wrong. This must never happen.

“Those wanting to blow the whistle on serious wrongdoing sometimes can only do that with anonymity – to protect themselves and their families. Without that protection there would be more power to the state and corporations and that is something that we must always avoid.”

He also spoke out in favour of the Freedom of Information Act, which is currently under review and could face a Government move to water it down.

He said: “In my time in the NHS there was an unwritten rule that sensitive information should not be written down because of the FoI Act. I suspect many parts of the public sector do not document controversial issues for fear of the press finding out.

“We should start again on this subject. All public money belongs to the public and everything it is spent on should be public information. It should all be published. It should all be available. If we are a democracy and hold ourselves to be the most advanced society why do we hide so much?”

Paying tribute to the role of journalists in society, he said: “Without you we, the public, would never know just how corrupt and broken parts of our society are, and without you society would not improve.

“You are the balancing force keeping the state accountable and not allowing people to be exploited.”

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