NHS chief faces fresh calls to quit
The head of the NHS in England is facing renewed calls to quit over the use of pay-offs to prevent "whistleblowers" speaking out publicly about concerns over patient safety.
During a bruising appearance before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Sir David Nicholson, the chief of NHS England, angrily denied staging a cover-up in order to mislead MPs.
But in a series of heated exchanges, he was forced to concede that he had not found out how many staff had received pay-offs from NHS trusts, despite having previously promised the committee he would do so.
Following the hearing, committee member Stephen Barclay accused Sir David of a "real abdication of responsibility" and called for his immediate resignation.
"There is an old culture within the NHS really which comes from Sir David where whistleblowers weren't encouraged," Mr Barclay, a Tory MP, told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.
"The culture associated with Sir David Nicholson is one where people are often suspended for very long periods of time and then paid off, often with gagging clauses attached. That is the old culture. Sir David is really part of the past, not the future."
Prior to the hearing, Mr Barclay said figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that since 2008 at least 52 staff had been prevented from speaking through the use of confidentiality clauses at a cost of £2 million to the taxpayer.
Mr Barclay told the Daily Telegraph that Sir David - who retires next year - had either been complicit in a "systemic cover-up" or had failed to ask questions about what was happening in the NHS, with the result that Parliament had been misled.
Sir David - who is stepping down after strong criticism over his role in the Mid Staffs NHS trust scandal - told the committee that he had always acted to support whistleblowers in the NHS.
"I can absolutely refute that I have ever been involved in any kind of cover-up in relation to the expenditure that's identified," he said.