Former NHS manager faces investigation over contracts

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The Independent Online
A former senior health manager is facing investigation by auditors following allegations that he used his public post to set up two lucrative contracts with a private firm he later joined as director.

George Walker is alleged to have used his position as commissioning director for Sheffield Health Authority to award contracts worth pounds 35,000 to a new GP co-operative and pounds 100,000 to Primary Care Multifund Ltd, a GP management company which manages the co- operative. He formally joined PCM as director the day after he retired from the health authority last August.

But a document lodged at Companies House and seen by The Independent, shows that Mr Walker became director of PCM as early as 29 April.

The Sheffield Health Authority removed Mr Walker from his post as soon as they became aware of his involvement with PCM at the end of July. But he continued to work for the authority in another capacity until he took early retirement at the end of August.

"There was a potential conflict of interest and we did not want any question of a conflict of interest," Cathy Hamlyn, health authority chief executive, said. "This is a matter of probity and public services do have to keep their standards."

The health authority has only recently become aware of the document lodged at Companies House and the district audit office was asked to investigate at the beginning of October.

Although the pounds 35,000 contract with the GP co-operative has been approved, the health authority is now waiting until the auditors complete their investigation before approving the contract with PCM.

Mr Walker's actions were initially exposed by the Sheffield Community Health Council, the patients' watchdog. "He clearly contravened rules of accountability and codes of conduct," Janet Beyleveld, chief officer for the CHC, said.

"This raises a number of questions on how he could continue to deny any involvement," she said. "Until there is a full independent investigation, we will continue to have concerns about the co-operative and the way that Mr Walker behaved."

But Mr Walker said he was not actively involved with PCM until the beginning of September and that he thought the health authority was aware of his appointment. "All I did was act as a reference point for the forms that came in," he said. "I was basically a post box." In his former post at the health authority, Mr Walker saw his role as encouraging fund-holding in all its forms.

He said that his early involvement with PCM and setting up the new GP co- operative was part of his job and that he was happy to face investigation.

"I'm quite happy for the auditors to go in because I'm completely innocent," he said.