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Sacked NHS worker claims 'silence deal': Executive investigating Wessex computer scheme prohibited from NHS for two years

A SENIOR health authority executive was sacked and then prohibited from working in the National Health Service for two years in what she views as an attempt to buy her silence over a mismanaged computer scheme which lost as much as pounds 63m. The Department of Health confirmed yesterday that it was not consulted.

Rosemary Storrs, former Information Technology director at Wessex Regional Health Authority, claimed that she was asked to leave in October 1992 and offered a pounds 78,000 settlement if she agreed not to work full-time in the NHS for two years. She was not given any explanation for her dismissal.

Ms Storrs was brought into the authority to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse in 1990 of a computer scheme. Secret district auditor reports uncovered by the Independent in an investigation with Computer Weekly earlier this year showed how large amounts - up to pounds 63m - had been lost. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published these reports during a special hearing in May.

Wessex offered individuals closely associated with the venture well-paid consultancy work after leaving.

Ms Storrs was given a pounds 400-a-day consultancy. Her predecessor, Harry Tuffill, left the authority in 1990 and was given a six-month consultancy contract. The District Auditor later criticised him for interfering in the purchase of a computer which lost Wessex at least pounds 2m despite clear contractual prohibitions on involvement with the purchase. .

The former regional general manager, John Hoare, was given a 'special' assignment for 10 months after he left in 1989. MPs were told that Mr Hoare, despite being blamed for the failure of the computer scheme, was not dismissed from his post, but was given pounds 119,940 in compensation on taking early retirement.

After her appointment, Ms Storrs pursued computer contractors for compensation. She was one of the few officers in Wessex to emerge from the scandal with any credit.

She took one computer consultant to court for repayment of pounds 5.5m but was asked to leave before the case was finished. Wessex has said that the legal action is no longer being taken.

As the Independent has disclosed, many senior officers including Sir Robin Buchanan, the present authority chairman, were involved in the original negotiations with this contractor. Some officers suspected Ms Storrs - with no good grounds - of leaking information about the computer scheme to the press.

She decided to reveal details of the 'onerous and unreasonable' two-year ban, because she believes that it is against the spirit of the Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley's, intention of creating an atmosphere of openness in the NHS.

Ms Storrs said she did not make the details of her contract public until now because after her dismissal from Wessex she had been working as a consultant to the authority and 'it would not have been professional to talk about my former employer while under such a contract'.

Wessex insists this sort of clause is 'perfectly commonplace'. The Department of Health said yesterday: 'Wessex region has conceded arrangements for severance payments were made without due authority.'

It added that although it was not consulted about the ban it believes that it was 'not unreasonable'.