Leading article: The damaging culture of NHS secrecy


Gary Walker was dismissed as head of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust two years ago. The terms of his departure, or some of them, have now been unearthed by the BBC.

It discovered, first, that he received more than £500,000 from the NHS as part of a severance deal and, second, that the settlement included a "super-gag" barring him not only from speaking about the deal, but from saying it existed at all.

Whether Mr Walker was subject to a super-gag or a standard one, however, hardly matters. The bigger concern should be the money the NHS is shelling out annually to settle employment disputes and the frequency with which the agreements stipulate confidentiality.

The NHS is a public service. In Mr Walker's case, his departure appears to have reflected a dispute between him and his superiors about care priorities. This is precisely the sort of conflict that ought to be in the public domain, and it is unlikely to be unique. All those who pay national insurance and use the NHS, in other words almost everyone in the country, have a right to know what decisions are being made on their behalf and how much the NHS is disbursing in this way – even as it complains of being strapped for cash. The culture of secrecy in the public sector generally is pernicious. In the NHS, where policies and practice can decide life and death, there are times when it could be fatal.